What are signs of malnutrition in our elderly? What can be done to fend off and even reverse malnutrition?
A physiological decrease in appetite as we age is normal, as is a decrease in the sense of taste and smell. However, malnutrition – defined as a lack of vitamins, minerals and other essentials needed for our body to function – is not. Severe loss of these essential nutrients triggers short- and long-term health issues, slow recovery from wounds and illnesses, and a higher risk of infection. Because weight loss and malnutrition accelerate frailty and decrease mobility, it puts your elder at risk for a fall.
Springpoint at Home’s Certified Home Health Aides (CHHAs) can watch for poor eating habits, isolation, increased frailty, and fall risk. Our Aging Life Care Advisor™/Care Management team can also help with food choices, shopping, and resources to evaluate medical conditions like swallowing and medication. Aging Life Care Advisors™/Care Managers build a relationship with weekly visits to your elder, keeping an eye on them when family cannot.
Many signs of malnutrition are overlooked because they are attributed to aging, for example: cold, paper-thin skin, complaints of feeling cold, no appetite for food, or lethargy throughout the day. However, hair that easily falls out, slow recovery from illness or surgery, being constantly tired or depressed, always being angry or irritated, and having a hard time focusing are also symptoms of malnutrition. Because it is masked as simply getting old, a discussion with your elder’s Primary Care Physician and a nutritionist is important to ensure these symptoms are not due to the loss of essential nutrients.
Along with these physical signs, be aware of dental problems like ill-fitting dentures, which can make chewing difficult. Certainly, diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and thyroid disorders are known to cause changes in eating habits. But when these diseases are absent, look for a decrease in strength, which can make it difficult to open cans and jars and lift pots or pans. These physical changes, in conjunction with poor mobility or loss of vision and hearing, make it difficult to cook. Medication side-effects can create a bitter taste or leave an elder with dry mouth, making food they used to love unpalatable.
Psychosocial changes can also cause malnutrition. Depression, isolation, and loneliness (which are often associated with aging) play a part here as well, as does the inability to purchase high quality food.
So, how can we help prevent or reverse malnutrition?
Along with regular checkups with a physician, it requires a focus on eating healthy, whole foods with lots of fruit and vegetables. Eating food with high water content is one way to ensure your elder stays hydrated if they are unable or unwilling to drink two liters of water a day. Frequent, small meals may be easier for them to tolerate. Liquid nutritional supplements between meals, along with increased protein intake, are other ways to prevent and improve malnutrition. In conjunction with a physician, discuss what role vitamins and supplements can play. Be sure to review with your pharmacist the potential interaction between vitamins and supplements and current pharmaceutical medications.
Springpoint at Home’s CHHAs can serve a vital role in helping to prevent malnutrition by taking over cooking and scheduling healthy snacks like cheese sticks, full-fat yogurt, crackers with peanut butter or cheese, diced fruit, and whole milk or chocolate milk during the day. In addition, they serve an important role in decreasing loneliness by being a companion, especially during mealtimes. Many elders will tell you they don’t like eating alone.
Springpoint at Home’s Aging Life Care Advisors™/Care Managers also serve an important role. They can take your elder to the doctor to determine if the loss of appetite is caused by medication, an infection, or illness. They can help by learning your elder’s food preferences (including snacks) and whether large or small meals are most appealing. Even food temperature preference can change as we age. They can set up a routine for meals and snacks which helps train the body to recognize when it is time for meals. Our Aging Life Care Advisors™/Care Managers can go grocery shopping or set up food for home delivery.
The key to preventing malnutrition is being proactive. Having Springpoint at Home staff as part of your team is another set of eyes and ears that can help prevent and even reverse malnutrition.
To learn more about Springpoint at Home, please call 844-724-1777 and set up a complementary consultation.