Your Aging Loved One’s Guide to Good Nutrition
Did you know that a staggering one out of every four older Americans is suffering from malnutrition?
There’s no better time to shine the spotlight on eating healthy than during March’s National Nutrition Month. Sponsored by the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada, this annual observation offers the perfect opportunity to check to make sure your aging loved one is eating right. Let’s take a closer look at this important topic, along with tips for caregivers to promote adequate nutrition to the aging adults in their lives.
Seniors and Malnutrition
Malnutrition occurs when the body doesn’t get enough nutrients to function properly. This problem is particularly prevalent in seniors: As many as 3.7 million older Americans may be living with this condition. Unfortunately, malnutrition can have dire consequences, including the following:
- weight loss
- low energy and fatigue
- loss of strength and muscle weakness
- poor memory
- decreased immune function
Additionally, seniors with malnutrition may also be more prone to trips, falls, hospitalizations, and longer recovery times following surgery. If you think your loved one is suffering from medically-related malnutrition, check in with his/her physician.
How Caregivers Can Help
The 2016 theme for National Nutrition Month, "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” is particularly fitting for seniors. Why? Because malnutrition in seniors is often associated with loss of appetite, which results from a variety of factors including medications (which alter the taste of food) and bland, restricted diets. Other common causes of malnutrition include dental problems (which may make eating difficult), low income; physical disability and mobility issues; depression and even alcoholism.
There are some simple ways caregivers can help loved ones enjoy better nutrition. Making healthy food that also tastes good is a great way to start. For seniors accustomed to high-fat, high-salt diets, substituting in herbs and spices is a healthy way to impart flavor. But it's not just about taste. Serving colorful and fragrant meals can also boost appetites in older adults.
Another easy way to help seniors embrace healthier eating? Education -- for caregivers and seniors alike. The 10 Tips Nutrition Education Series from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a repository of useful information covering topics ranging from “Choosing Healthy Meals as You Get Older” to “ Building Healthy Mealtime Habits.”
A dietitian or nutritionist can also be an invaluable resource in learning how to help older adults not only eat healthy, but also feel great about doing so.
One last thing to keep in mind during National Nutrition Month? Change can be hard -- particularly for older adults. By starting small and working toward healthier eating together, it’s possible to nurture meaningful and lasting change.
- Malnutrition impacts millions of seniors in America for a variety of reasons.
- Lack of proper nutrition can have serious mental and physical health repercussions.
- Caregivers, dietitians, and members of the healthcare team can work together to promote healthier eating and better nutrition in seniors.
- Changing lifelong eating habits is a process, but even baby steps can make a big difference.
About Marissa Salvesen
My journey into the world of senior living began when I started working for United Methodist Homes in 2010. Starting as an Activities Director at one of our-winning assisted and independent living communities and then transitioning to Marketing and Promotions Manager for UMH, I now work as the Manager of Mission Development, fostering the Mission and Values of our organization. I love sharing stories about the many ways we build meaningful relationships and enrich the lives of those we serve, and am proud to be part of building UMH’s 140-year legacy of caring. Wondering what makes our communities such special places to live and work? Connect with me and find out!