If you’ve just learned that your elder loved one has been diagnosed with poor nutrition, it may come as a shock. Unfortunately, geriatric malnutrition is fairly common, with an estimated 3.7 million elders across the United States suffering from it. The major causes of malnutrition in the elderly are varied, so you’ll need to look at your own unique situation to try to determine what needs to change so you can help your loved one return to better health.
Causes of Malnutrition in Elders
Malnutrition in elders is caused by either a lack of interest in food or else food that is inadequate for nutritional needs. Many elderly people experience appetite suppression as they age, either naturally or as a side effect of medicine. Sometimes eating is painful for those with bad dentures, facial paralysis, swallowing problems or arthritis. Still other elders struggle with mental health issues like depression or an eating disorder that intrude with normal eating habits.
On the other hand, some elders have no problems with eating, but they don’t have access to nutritious food. Either they can’t afford good food, can’t access good food or can’t prepare healthy meals for themselves. They may just eat processed food or junk food instead of nutrient-dense options. No matter what the cause, the result is malnutrition, which opens the door to a number of health challenges in the elderly.
Helping Aging Loved Ones With Nutritional Needs
You’ve got the diagnosis and instructions from the physician, so now it’s time to put those plans into action and make sure your elder loved one has access to nutritious food at snacks and mealtimes. However, that’s often easier said than done and it can feel overwhelming at first.
Here are some ideas on how you can help your elder loved one with their nutritional needs when they are malnourished and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again:
Shop for nutrient-dense food that delivers a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and more in small doses. Examples include eggs, low-fat dairy, lean protein, whole fruit, green vegetables and nuts.
Eliminate junk food that is tempting your loved one to forgo nutritious options. Provide tasty snacks instead of empty carbs and sugar so they will get nutrients when they feel munchy. Examples include peanut butter, yogurt, cheese cubes or sticks, raw vegetables and dip, and fruit smoothies.
Encourage light physical activity so that they burn calories, increase the heart rate and stimulate hunger. A hungry elder will be more likely to eat their entire meal and may even ask for second helpings.
Give your elder loved one any supplements that their doctor recommended to boost their nutritional intake. Serving the supplements with a meal makes it easier on the stomach and will help it to quickly digest better. While nutrients from food are the best source, supplements can help fill in any gaps.
Use outside resources to ensure your loved one is receiving well-balanced meals and has access to healthy snacks. Options include meal delivery services, elder care aides, church or community support groups and other family members.
Recovering from malnourishment is a long process that requires patience and a steady improvement in the diet of the elder loved one. With determination and careful planning, your elder loved one can enjoy good health and vitality once again.