How to prevent malnutrition in seniors?
Malnutrition is a very common problem in seniors. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.” To prevent this problem, it’s important to understand not only the causes but also the consequences.
Malnutrition in seniors in figures
Malnutrition affects a considerable number of seniors. In fact, it’s estimated that between 4 and 10 percent of the senior population living at home is affected by this condition. This figure climbs even higher in long-term care facilities, where 15 to 38 percent of residents are malnourished. Finally, it’s considered that anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of hospitalized persons suffer from malnutrition.
It has also been observed that the risks of malnutrition increase with age. In a 2010 study of a group of seniors living at home, Swiss doctor Jérôme Morisod, a specialist in geriatrics, determined that malnutrition affects 5 percent of those between the ages of 65 and 79 and 10 percent of those over the age of 80.
Factors leading to malnutrition in seniors
By taking a closer look at the problem of malnutrition in seniors, we can see numerous indications that this condition comes about as a result of certain misguided ideas and preconceived notions. For example, some may believe that seniors don’t require as much nutrition as young people because they’re less active. This belief is completely false.
The following are some of the factors that have been shown to lead to malnutrition in seniors:
- Use of medications with side-effects inducing changes in taste or appetite.
- Dental problems, such as painful gums or missing teeth, resulting in a decreased desire to take the necessary time to eat properly.
- Lack of physical activity and, as a consequence, decreased sensations of hunger.
- Solitude, leading to less time spent at the dinner table and, thus, less importance given to the preparation of nutritionally satisfying meals.
- Gastrointestinal and digestive problems that come with age.
Of course, this list isn’t all-inclusive. Malnutrition can have many other underlying causes.
Consequences of malnutrition
In seniors, malnutrition can have dire consequences. In fact, once malnutrition sets in, those who are affected exhibit a significant loss of muscle mass, which increases the risk of falls and fractures, eventually leading to a total loss of independence. Malnutrition can also cause emotional distress and even depression.
Other consequences include diminished ability for wounds to heal, longer recovery times even from mild illnesses and increased susceptibility to a variety of infections.
Considerable weight loss often precipitates intense episodes of fatigue, a significant loss of independence and, in some cases, the onset of serious morbidity.
How to avoid malnutrition in seniors?
A number of measures can be taken to prevent malnutrition in the senior population, starting with an in-home screening of the affected individual. This evaluation can also be performed at a specialized establishment.
Furthermore, it’s important to enrich the diets of seniors to ensure they’re getting enough calories.
Seniors often lose their sense of taste little by little. To make sure they don’t end up malnourished, it’s a good idea to propose dishes that are a little tastier or food with enough seasoning to make it more appetizing. It’s also a good idea to offer dishes that are easy to eat without requiring hours and hours of chewing.
Regular physical activity can also help increase their appetite, giving them the urge to eat.
Another way you can help prevent malnutrition in seniors is by paying close attention to their emotional state. If you notice that the person seems depressed or prone to mood swings, make sure that he or she continues eating well.
It may also prove necessary to monitor nutrition after a period of hospitalization, which in many cases can mark the onset of malnutrition.
In any case, Elite Comfort can help you prevent malnutrition by offering a wide variety of in-home services, ranging from medical care to meal preparation, or simply by providing companionship at mealtime.