Supporting Seniors' Nutritional Health
Many seniors face inadequate nutrition. The effects of being undernourished or malnourished can be dangerous, so it is important to recognize signs of nutritional issues in aging loved ones.
Common Challenges to Seniors' Nutritional Health
Typically, nutritional issues are associated with poverty or illnesses. For seniors, however, some of the most common challenges include:
* Difficulty getting to grocery stores, carrying groceries, and putting them away
* Trouble with meal planning and remembering things in the kitchen
* Struggling with cooking, cleaning dishes, etc.
* Lack of hunger due to health problems, sadness, or loneliness
* Forgetting to cook, eat, or get groceries
* Fatigue leading to convenient, unhealthy food choices
* Problems with taste, swallowing, or digestion
Some challenges are unexpected. For instance, one study found a senior woman was unplugging her refrigerator at night because it was noisy. This made the food she was consuming unsafe and caused health problems for months!
Signs of Nutrition Problems in Seniors
Recognizing some nutrition problems in seniors can be simple, but others are more complex.
* Weight loss, whether slow or fast * Getting sick easily
* Lack of appetite * Wounds taking a long time to heal
* Difficulty concentrating * Mood changes or irritability
* Feeling cold often
In extreme cases or when malnourishment is a problem, symptoms might include:
* Shakiness or lightheadedness
* Difficulty breathing
* Sunken cheeks and features
* Digestive trouble
* Hair and skin drying out
Malnourished or Undernourished?
Seniors can be malnourished or undernourished. Knowing the difference can help you prevent and address nutritional issues.
Malnourishment is when the body does not receive the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy balance. Dietary changes may restore balance, such as eating more fiber or less sugar.
A body is undernourished when too few calories are consumed. This can be addressed simply by eating more.
Consequences of Nutrition Problems
Being undernourished or malnourished can:
* Weaken the immune system
* Cause fatigue
* Upset digestive processes
* Strain the heart and mind
* Lead to extreme weight loss
* Increase risk of death
* Increase risk of hospitalization
* Delay healing times
Medications Can Also Affect Nutrition
Nutrition can affect the body’s response to drugs; conversely, drugs can affect the body’s nutrition. Foods can enhance, delay, or decrease drug absorption. Some foods impair absorption of many antibiotics. Food can alter metabolism of drugs; eg, high-protein diets can accelerate metabolism of certain drugs. Some diets can also alter the bacterial flora may markedly affect the overall metabolism of certain drugs. (Youdim, MD and Geffen, 2020)
If a senior is showing symptoms of nutritional problems, talk to a doctor and bring a complete list of prescribed and over-the-counter medications being taken and health conditions.
Youdim, MD, A. and Geffen, D. (2020). Nutrient-Drug Interactions - Nutritional Disorders - MSD Manual Professional Edition. [online] MSD Manual Professional Edition. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/nutritional-disorders/nutrition-general-considerations/nutrient-drug-interactions [Accessed 12 Feb. 2020].