Malnutrition is a widespread and largely preventable issue for America's elderly population. It can be found in care facilities, hospitals, and independent living alike. With over 15% of the elderly population facing the threat of hunger, we need to raise awareness by spreading the word about malnutrition, and do what we can to reduce its reach.
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Nearly 1 in 6 seniors is threatened by hunger
Over 10% of seniors living independently face hunger
10-50% of seniors hospitalized for acute illness face hunger
10-70% of seniors in long care units and nursing homes face hunger
The problem is nationwide: Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama report over 20% of their seniors face hunger. California ranks 11th worst, with 17.19% of its seniors facing hunger.
Health Concerns: These include chronic illness, medication side effects, and dental issues.
Dietary Restrictions: Many seniors are instructed to maintain low sodium, sugar, and cholesterol diets. This may lead to a lack of essential nutrients.
Limited Income: Some seniors may face financial struggles, which could limit their access to healthy food.
Reduced Social Contact: Seniors may be isolated, and as result may miss out on dining as a social activity.
Depression: Depression from grief, loneliness, failing health, or lack of mobility can cause a decreased appetite.
Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol interferes with digestion, as well as the absorption of various nutrients.
Observe your loved one's eating habits: If possible, observe them during meal times to assess their food habits. If they live in long-term care, try visiting during a meal.
Watch for weight loss: This can be done either by direct monitoring with weigh-ins, or by observing other factors, for example, how their clothes fit.
Be aware of medications: Prescription drugs can affect appetite, digestion, and nutrient absorption.
Other red flags: These include poor wound healing, easy bruising, and dental difficulties.
Weakened immune system and thus a higher risk of infection
Poor wound healing
Muscle weakness and loss of strength can lead to falls and fractures
Confusion and disorientation
Higher cost of care due to more frequent doctors' visits, longer hospital stays, and higher likelihood of readmittance.
Engage doctors: If you notice weight loss, work with your loved one's physicians to address any contributing factors. Then, assess the need for referral to a dietician.
Encourage eating nutrient-rich foods: Add nutrient-rich foods to your loved one's diet. Try nut butter on toast and fruit, chopped nuts in cereal, extra egg whites in an omelet, and cheese in soups, sandwiches and noodles.
Consider outside help: If necessary, hire a home health aid to shop for groceries or prepare meals. You might also try home visits from nurses and dietitians. Alternatively, consider Meals on Wheels or other community companies.
Make meals social events: Seniors often miss out on the social aspect of mealtimes. If they live independently, try inviting them for meals at your home, or prepare a meal together at their place. If they life in a home, try visiting during mealtime and eating with them.
Provide money-saving tips: Encourage your loved one to bring a shopping list to the grocery store, look for sales, coupons, and fliers, and search for generic brands. You might also suggest frequenting restaurants that provide discounts for older adults.
Encourage physical activity: Regular exercise, even if it's light, stimulates appetite, and promotes the strengthening of bones and muscles.