That is a good question. It can also be misunderstood by younger generations who do not understand the challenges many seniors face. The problem is not necessarily that seniors are not serious about their own good health, but rather, the malnutrition they experience can be caused by factors beyond their control.
Malnutrition in seniors is often caused by a combination of physical, social and psychological issues. Many seniors experience lack of appetite due to the effects of illnesses or medications they take for those illnesses. Some medications change the effectiveness of taste buds, making food less appealing. Seniors who live on limited incomes may pay high out-of-pocket costs for medications and do not have funds left over to purchase healthy foods. In addition, those who have restricted diets because of medical conditions may not find their required bland meals appealing. Some seniors do not have easy access to grocery stores, or the means to get there to shop. Seniors who live more isolated lives may find cooking for one and eating alone a challenge. Alcoholism and depression may also be key factors in the lives of some seniors, further inhibiting consumption of necessary amounts of nutritious food.
Whether you are a family member, friend or caregiver of a senior, Comfort Keepers® believes there are ways to recognize whether or not the senior you care for is eating properly and steps you can take to fix the problem and avoid malnutrition.
It may not always be easy to determine whether or not your senior loved one is at risk for malnutrition. An easy, step-by-step quiz is available at www.InteractiveCaregiving.com ,which provides a nutritional score that can be printed and taken to a doctor to discuss the senior’s nutritional needs. You can also easily contact a Comfort Keepers office to help seniors who may need assistance from a caregiver.
Here are additional steps you can take to help seniors avoid malnutrition:
- Visit often and monitor what the senior eats. If possible, help cook meals and dine together to ensure healthy meals are prepared and consumed. Doing so also makes mealtime more enjoyable for lonely seniors.
- Offer to take the senior shopping. Help choose nutritious and easy-to-prepare items that the senior likes. Foods packed with nutrients such as peanut butter, fresh fruits and vegetables are good choices. Add cheese to dishes, such as rice, pasta and sandwiches, to make tasty meals. Top yogurt with wheat germ and add extra egg whites to scrambled eggs.
- Help the senior choose healthy snacks such as peanuts, nutrition-boosting shakes, health food bars, and other nutrient-packed items designed for immediate consumption with no preparation needed.
- Introduce the senior to seasonings, such as lemon juice and herbs, that can make bland meals taste better.
- Monitor alcohol intake and be on the alert for signs of depression that may affect appetites.
- Consult the senior’s doctor regarding changing medications that might suppress the appetite.
The dynamics of a senior living alone pose unique challenges as opposed to those who have other family members living in the household and more interaction on a daily basis. Good nutrition for seniors is a key factor in maintaining good health necessary to leading active, healthy and independent lives. Keeping an eye on seniors who live alone is critical to helping them maintain their safety, well-being, and ability to live independently.