Malnutrition is not just a disease of the poor in America. People who are malnourished may be very thin, obese or look absolutely normal.
Wikipedia defines the term: “Malnutrition or malnourishment is a condition that results from eating a diet in which nutrients are either not enough or are too much such that the diet causes health problems. It may involve calories, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins or minerals.”
Your very own parent could be suffering, and you may not even notice.
What are the symptoms of malnutrition?
Have you noticed:
● unintentional weight loss
● lower food intake
● choking or swallowing problems
● problems with constipation or diarrhea
● frequent complaints about feeling cold
● muscle loss
● difficulty recovering from an illness
● dizziness or increased tendency to fall
● pressure ulcers, dry skin or frequent infections
● sore or bleeding mouth, tongue or gums
These are clues that your parent is either already malnourished or is in danger of becoming malnourished.
At least one in three older Americans admitted to the hospital is malnourished.
If you notice signs of malnutrition in your parent, you still have time to correct it. After all, malnutrition is a slow, insidious disease.
What is the cause of your parent’s malnutrition?
After determining there is a problem, find the cause.
● Is there a medical reason, such as choking or swallowing problems, constipation or diarrhea, or a sore or bleeding mouth, tongue or gums?
● Are they able to cook? More importantly, are they able to cook safely?
● Are they eating non-nutritious food? Sometimes, people get in a rut with food that isn’t nutritionally complete because it’s easy to prepare and tastes good. If your parents are eating cereal every morning, they may need help developing a nourishing menu.
● Are they no longer interested in food? Aging affects taste, smell and appetite, all factors in enjoying a meal.
● Are they eating bad food? Because aging affects taste and smell, your parents may have difficulty judging whether the meat is spoiled and eat it, which may cause diarrhea and other illness.
What are other forms of senior malnutrition?
- Malnutrition is not just a problem of eating too little. In many seniors, it involves eating too much food with insufficient nutritive value. Its symptoms include obesity instead of weight loss, although the other symptoms remain the same. It can be treated by increasing exercise, reducing caloric intake, and ensuring nutritive value.
- Another prevalent problem that occurs when people get older is dehydration. Of course, dehydration is a problem nationwide, even in winter. However, dehydration is a greater problem for older people because their ability to conserve water is reduced, their sense of thirst declines, and their ability to respond to temperature changes is lessened. An oral solution with electrolytes may alleviate the symptoms of dehydration.
What are some solutions for senior malnutrition?
Since the problem of senior malnutrition has been identified, numerous solutions have been developed, including:
- Meals on Wheels provides one nutritious meal a day to qualifying seniors
- Massachusetts Senior Nutrition Program offers meals at local Council on Aging sites.
- Private shopping or meal delivery services can deliver meals or ingredients to your parents’ home for a price.
- Nutritional meal replacements are available in liquid or solid form.
How do you introduce a more nutritious diet?
One way to help is by taking your parents out to dinner or eating with them. Meals are social occasions, and your presence may well encourage them to eat. Because you’re not a nutritionist or dietitian, you’re probably unsure what constitutes a healthy meal for your parent. After all, a nutritious meal for a person your age may not be so nutritious for your parent, especially if your parent has a chronic illness or other health issues.
Consult with your parent’s doctor or a nutritionist or simply do your research via the Internet. U.S. News & World Report published an excellent article on the best diets for older people.
Introducing a new diet may not be a change your parent welcomes, so consider making alterations a little bit at a time. Buy them a liquid supplement. Cook dinner the next time you come over. Take them some healthy prepackaged meals. Many senior living communities, including Assisted Living communities, serve nutritious meals three times a day. Every little bit of change can prevent your parent’s nutritional decline.
Are your parents resistant to change?
Change is especially difficult for older people. Your parent may be resistant to changes in diet and lifestyle. “How to Persuade Your Aging Parent to Consider Assisted Living” provides proven methods to communicate with your parent and your parent’s doctor that may prove helpful even if you are not considering Assisted Living. It’s free. It’s available for download. What do you have to lose?