Posted on October 5, 2011
By 2030, Americans over the age of 65 will reach 71 million, approximately
20% of our population. Further, almost 90% of Americans over the age of 65 have
one or more degenerative disorders. These conditions were once thought to be a
natural consequence of aging but recently there is evidence that many
conditions like heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes can be
either prevented or ameliorated by good nutrition and regular exercise.
There are increasing obstacles to proper nutrition as we age:
Chronic illness, recent hospitalizations, depression, mal absorption,
medications, dental problems, diminished taste and smell, restricted diets,
limited income, loneliness and isolation. However, it is important to realize
that without the proper mix of fuel and nutrients, symptoms of malnutrition can
appear and increase the symptoms and debilitation of any of the above listed
conditions. In essence, it is a vicious cycle that can only be broken by a
commitment to learn and apply better eating habits.
Malnutrition can be seen as increased forgetfulness,
dehydration, frailty, delayed wound healing and decreased muscle mass that can lead
to falls and fractures. Indirectly, malnutrition could be a significant factor
in many hospital stays and lengthy rehabilitations. Additionally, it can make
worse any chronic conditions.
Some seniors may be at a healthy or even heavy weight, but still
experience malnutrition. Because metabolism can decline by as much as 30% in
people over 50, it is important to eat fewer calories. With fewer calories, we
run the risk of fewer nutrients, so the foods must be packed with nutrients. A
good start is to limit high-carb,
high-fat, nutrient deficient foods and increasing nutrient rich foods like vegetables,
fruits, whole grains breads and pastas and to add supplement drinks if
necessary. A multivitamin will also go a long way to maintain your stores if
your nutrient values rise and fall day by day.
Good ways to help a senior that you suspect of being
Try to approach the situation delicately. There are many reasons to not eat
properly and you don’t want that person to become defensive and clam up. Eat
with them, observe. Is there plenty of protein, fiber and healthy fats in
each meal? Are vegetables and fruit included in each meal? Are most meals
cooked at home, from scratch and healthy sources? If so, then they are on their
way to good nutrition. Next find out if they are supplementing their diet with
a multivitamin or nutrition shake. This can be done by placing the items in the
home and periodically checking to see if they have been used. See how much they
eat at every meal. A good measure for amount is the size of their fist. If it
less than that, try to determine if they are eating more frequently. Many
seniors cannot eat 3 large meals and choose to eat more often with smaller
portions. As long as the smaller portions and snacks equal 5 a day, throughout
the day, all is well.
If a loved one is malnourished there are several things that you
can do with and for them to encourage healthier/sufficient eating:
Add healthy proteins and health fats, like cheese, nuts and nutbutters. Cheese
can be mixed into a wide variety of otherwise bland and calorie deficient
foods. Nutbutters are great on crackers and a slice of bread, add a little
fruit spread if the diet permits, to moisten and make it easier to swallow.
Nuts are great for snackers. Over the day these calories can add up and they
are providing rich and healthy oils for the body.
Spice it up!
Add some herbs, lemon, seasonings, as tolerated and enjoyed to make the food
more flavorful and enjoyable. Make sure you check sodium levels. An adult
should take in no more than 1500mg per day.
Get them out or invite yourself over. Eating is a social behavior. We all eat
much more when we are in the company of others. This has the dual benefit of
providing an anticipated event and the eventual company, which can help to
alleviate mild depression, a reason for not eating well.
Exercise gets everything in the body working more efficiently. Encourage
walking, biking, chair exercises, swimming, WHATEVER that is possible to do
safely and comfortably. The idea is to move the body every day. Metabolism will
increase, mood will lighten, and appetite will increase. Again, if you are at a
loss for options, contact your health care provider for resources.
Take a daily multi-vitamin to cover any gaps in nutrition.
Call the Doctor!
If you suspect depression or lack of appetite due to medications or ANY other
underlying issues, call the doctor. Many times they will be able to do an
overview of health and medications to discover or eliminate possible reasons
for a lack of appetite.
As always, my column is meant as general advice based on over 20
years of working with and learning about seniors. It is not medical advice. I
encourage anyone who suspects that they or someone they love is malnourished to
see their health care practitioner as soon as possible in order to establish an
individualized plan that will put you back on track to better health.
Submitted by Gabriela F. Brown, Constant Companions Home
Care. Visit our website at www.constantcompanions.net.