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Malnutrition in the Elderly


Have you ever noticed how little some elderly people eat?  Even if you meet those who are elderly that have great attitudes, often their food intake is very little.  A small amount of one kind of food and they seem satisfied and move on with their day.  Is it really that older people need fewer calories or are there other issues that cause decreased appetite?  How does that suppressed appetite affect them over time?

There are many contributing factors to a shallow appetite in older adults.  There can be psychological factors, physical & even financial factors affect how much elderly people eat.  You’ll first need to determine what may be causing them not to eat before even being able to offer the help that they need.

Psychological factors might include anxiety, depression, or even something as fixable as not being in social situations very often.  People who are accustomed to being with others often but end up in a new situation where they have less contact socially can enter a slump that is hard to climb out of.  Setting a date for lunch once or twice a week can be a great help.  If they have issues with anxiety, check to make sure that their nervousness is occurring because of their diet.  Often people feel extreme nervousness or anxiety if they are lacking the correct balance of protein & carbohydrates in the diet.  Their blood sugar spikes or crashes & this can make them feel anxious.  If you can increase social contact & ensure that they have balanced meals, you may find their anxiety waning.  Social get togethers need not be always surrounding food.  You can arrange card games or other board games evenings.  You could also arrange for crafting/hobby times that would be enjoyable for several people to attend.  Pay attention to the things that they talk about, especially if they are feeling lonely.  Some people do not know how to cook for themselves & need to attend a cooking class.  Some people have cooked for others for so long that they see it as silly to cook for only one person.

Physical factors could include lack of absorption because of digestive issues.  If a doctor can diagnose what is going on, it is best.  If they have a problem with alcohol, it will interfere with their absorbsion of nutrients, so getting them help for the alcohol would be the logical first step.  Ask about their teeth and whether they are bothering them when they eat.  A trip to the dentist could be all that is holding them back from eating a healthy diet.  Ask if they’re trying to follow a certain diet that the doctor recommended.  Sometimes something as simple as a doctor asking them to cut out salt is enough for them to change their diets drastically and end up not eating enough because they don’t know how to cook or eat in this new way by adding in other herbs to make their food more appealing.  If they have many dietary restrictions, ask at the hospital or at a nursing home to see if they have a nutritionist you could consult with to help them come up with meal ideas and plans.

Financial factors often occur for elderly adults.  Assisted Living on social security alone is very difficult, but it is a reality for many senior citizens.  If they are struggling to buy healthy foods on their budget, try to help them figure it out.  There are many state & county programs available to help seniors with meals.  Meals on Wheels is a reputable one, but there are others.  Also, any time that there is a function that offers a low cost or free meal for the community, make sure that you invite them and find a ride or bring them.  It can be encouraging for them to be out and about and part of things in the community, and it can also provide their meal for the night.

All of this may seem a bit daunting at first when you’re delving into it but rest assured that once you start tackling the problem, they will most likely become more enjoyable people to be around.  Malnutrition can affect people in different ways and is almost always accompanied by health problems.  Iron deficiency can be caused by malnutrition.  Fatigue, dizziness and weakness can also be caused by it, even in early stages.  Once it is more advanced, there are a plethora of ailments that can come of it.  Do your friend or loved one a favor and get them help with the specific area that they need help so that they can go on to live a full and happy life!

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