When you hear the word ‘malnutrition’ you tend to think about starving kids in sub-Saharan Africa or famine in a third-world nation. You don’t think about malnutrition in connection with your own loved one. It is difficult to envision an older adult from a prosperous background, a loving family being malnourished, much less someone from your own family. And yet, malnourishment and undernourishment are astonishingly common among older American adults. We look at the reasons for senior malnutrition as well as the ways in which Assisted Living facilities in Tucson deal effectively with the issue.
Reasons for malnourishment in older adults.
According to experts, there are several reasons why seniors may eat less or may develop unhealthy eating patterns. The most obvious reason of this is advanced age itself. Older people often experience changes in their sense of smell and taste, and their appetites may become smaller with time. Also, older people typically have chronic illnesses that require regular medication which hamper the appetite. As the body ages, it processes and absorbs nutrients differently as well. Older people may have some difficulty in chewing, swallowing and so on. Plus, their health issues may restrict the type of food they can have, reducing the total number of calories they consume in a day.
Older people may also have physical limitations and mobility issues that prevent them from getting out of the house to buy produce. Older people typically slow down and become less physically coordinated with age. Problems such as Parkinson’s disease or arthritis not only make it difficult for older people to make and eat food, these conditions could also lead to accidents. So, difficulties with cooking food, stocking the kitchen and managing tableware also contribute to the problem. As a result, older people may fall out of the habit of preparing and eating nutritious and fresh meals. Over time cooking and eating become onerous chores, especially for older people who live alone.
And this brings us to yet another issue surrounding seniors – loneliness and social isolation. Many older adults don’t see the point in making the effort to eat properly when they are by themselves. The anxieties of living alone also mean that food simply seems uninteresting and less of a priority now. If a senior has recently lost their partner of many years, the grief of the loss itself could mean that they lose interest in cooking and eating.
Then there are other problems that come with aging, such as cognitive decline, forgetfulness and behavioral changes that also contribute to the problem of senior malnourishment or undernourishment.
The statistics are startling:
- According to some estimates, malnutrition is an invisible epidemic, with about one in four older Americans suffering from poor nutrition.
- Though 75% of older Americans think of themselves as healthy, many are at risk of malnutrition.
- Malnutrition can remain undiagnosed, leading to hospitalizations.
- Experts refer to the ‘anorexia of aging’ as a cause of reduced appetite and undernourishment.
- Many older people experience dysgeusia, which impairs the sense of taste.
- Depression is also commonly seen among older people, a major cause of malnutrition.
- Dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing was seen to be the cause for eating less in 50% of participants in one 2002 study.
- Dental defects also contribute to the problem according to a Spanish study.
- Dehydration, a fall in levels of sodium and potassium are seen to cause disorientation and several other problems.
Have you noticed any significant changes – weight loss, decreased appetite, changes in smell and taste, tiredness, slow healing of wounds – in your loved one? If so, you may want to explore the reasons behind these changes and consider the benefits of an Assisted Living facility.
Preventing malnutrition and under-nourishment.
Planning and preparing appetizing, nourishing and balanced meals is one of the key responsibilities of staff at Assisted Living Homes. The buying and stocking of produce, and the preparation of fresh and healthy meals and snacks mean that residents don’t have to bother about shopping, planning meals, cooking and so on. Caregivers make sure to offer meals and snacks that are nutritious and suitable for older people. They keep an eye on any signs of loss of appetite, residents neglecting to eat properly, weight fluctuations, mood changes etc.
An effort is made to create meal plans according to the tastes of residents while keeping in mind individual allergies, medical conditions and medications. For seniors who have trouble chewing and swallowing, soups, juices, milk and smoothies are some appetizing options. Residents are also encouraged to drink plenty of water to boost hydration and maintain the right balance of essential salts in the body. Residents who are interested in cooking for themselves or for their friends can cook the occasional meal and are encouraged to take an interest in the meal planning and so on. Caregivers also ensure that residents take nutritional supplements as prescribed. If required, the caregiver could discuss the possible introduction of a new supplement or a change in dosage with the attending medical professional for optimal senior nutrition.
Apart from this, another major reason for residents in assisted living eating properly is the social aspect. Having other people around to share meal times with, maybe share a drink with – this helps create a convivial atmosphere and transforms mealtimes into an enjoyable, joint activity. Residents often celebrate special events like birthdays by baking a cake or cooking a special dish.
More physical activity, regular meal and sleep times – all of this is conducive to healthy eating. Many residents find that the recently absent appetite now makes something of a comeback after moving to Assisted Living. Better energy levels, improved moods and an increase in general wellbeing will likely accompany that renewed interest in eating.
It can be heartening so see how the company of other residents, caring staff and appetizing food bring about a welcome change in your loved one. If you would like to know about the meal plans offered in assisted living, call us now. You can also make an appointment (INSERT LINK) for an in-person visit so that you can reassure yourself or a loved one about the type of facilities available for residents.