Malnutrition is a common problem for seniors. There are many causes that explain why boomers don’t get the nutrition they need. While some of the causes can be eliminated or modified quickly as a way to turn around a person’s health, some are systemic and linked to other significant social or psychological factors that are more difficult to tackle.
What is Malnutrition?
MedicalNewsToday’s definition of malnutrition states that it comes as the result of a poor diet that does not provide the nutrients necessary to promote good health. Typically, the idea of a malnourished person conjures up images of bony, frail bodies that are obviously underweight. Surprisingly, there are also a number of obese boomers who are also malnourished as a result of eating unhealthful foods in large amounts.
The Negative Impact of Malnutrition on Older Adults
Chronic malnutrition is no laughing matter as it significantly impacts quality of life issues and lifespan. Listed below are the concerns associated with malnourishment for seniors.
- Increased chance of fractures from falling
- Higher risk of hospitalization
- Weakened immune system with a higher risk of infections
- Wounds that take longer to heal or don’t completely heal
- Increased risk of death
Why Seniors Are Often at High Risk for Malnutrition
There is no one simple answer that explains why so many seniors are malnourished. On occasion, an individual slips into a state of malnourishment due to one obvious factor such as depression from the loss of a loved one or sudden dental problems. The reality surrounding this problem for older members of the population is often a bit more complicated with several culprits to address consecutively.
Major contributing factors to acute malnutrition.
1. Lack of food
There is a definite link between poverty and malnutrition for obvious reasons. Based on their set of circumstances, far too many seniors are forced to make difficult choices between paying for medicine, utilities or healthy food choices.
A lack of food can also be attributed to an inability to get to the grocery store as often as needed. Many boomers rely on others to help them shop and cook. When eating healthy, balanced meals becomes a logistical challenge, boomers are more likely to skip meals or eat unhealthy snacks that are readily available.
2. Loss of appetite
It is no secret that losing your sense of taste or smell makes food much less appealing. When eating becomes a chore instead of a pleasure for the senses, then skipping meals or eating less is common. The aging process diminishes many seniors’ senses leaving them disinterested in food.
Illness can also negatively impact appetite. Nausea can make the idea of eating very unappealing.
While few would argue against taking medications prescribed by trusted doctors, there is a downside to many of these drugs. Some medicine suppresses appetite.
4. Changes in metabolism
The link between metabolism and appetite is well documented. That’s why people joke about teenage boys eating them out of house and home. Unfortunately, that pendulum swings both ways with older people more likely to experience a reduced appetite and metabolism often associated with surgery, compromised organ function and medical treatments.
5. Physical discomfort
Anyone who has ever experienced a throbbing toothache knows why eating can become painful if you are struggling with oral issues. Additionally, seniors who have lost their ability to easily maneuver eating utensils or swallow might also decide against eating.
6. Lack of social interaction
Many people associate eating with socializing. Isolated seniors living alone might skip meals because they don’t enjoy them the way they once did. Cooking for just one person may seem like too much trouble for many people.
Depression impacts everyone differently. People with depression usually tend to overeat or skip meals, gaining or losing weight accordingly.
As people start to suffer from mild dementia, they can’t always remember whether they have eaten or not. While most of us look forward to each meal and at least try to eat well, boomers suffering from dementia that are still on their own can easily forget about the importance of eating regularly.
9. Alcohol abuse
It’s no secret that people who indulge in heavy drinking do not always put their health first. Alcohol abuse may lead to poor dietary choices. Additionally, drinking alcohol can disrupt healthy digestion.
10. Medically prescribed diets that are restrictive
New diets that are highly restrictive can make eating more of a challenge, which can equate to lower calorie intake. Making significant dietary changes based on doctors’ orders after a lifetime of eating poorly can contribute to a lack of interest in food.
Strategies for Preventing and Treating Malnutrition
Identifying the problem is usually not difficult. Underweight seniors can easily evaluate their weight based on BMI charts that make it easy to know whether your weight is too low. Granted, as mentioned earlier, some overweight boomers may also be malnourished. That’s why it is critical to visit the doctor on a regular basis to find out whether malnutrition is something to focus on and improve.
It is crucial to see a doctor when seniors experience unexplained weight loss or lose their appetite. Sometimes, a simple change in medication can improve appetite.
Setting goals for meeting a set number of calories daily is an excellent way to eliminate the risk of not eating enough. Doctors can help customize a formula that meets dietary needs based on an individual’s height and age.
Preventing and curing malnutrition requires a focus on eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Calorie intake is also important. Some seniors need to take supplements to ensure that they get enough protein and nutrients.
In the land of plenty where most people are trying to lose weight, it can be difficult to realize that there are many malnourished seniors putting themselves at risk by not eating a healthy diet.