It’s not a big surprise that many seniors eat less than younger people. Some don’t have as big of appetites as they used to, or their doctors may have recommended they cut back on some of their favorite foods from the past.
There are plenty of other reasons why someone’s appetite may be diminished, but the staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care wants people to be aware there’s a difference between forgetting a few meals once in awhile and eating poorly consistently or not at all, both of which can contribute to serious health problems.
In fact, cases of senior malnutrition are becoming common, which means more and more people’s health is becoming negatively impacted. This condition has been linked to rapid weight loss, lack of physical activity, a weaker immune system, muscle deterioration, increased odds of falling and a slower recovery time for injuries.
Seniors who don’t eat well could also be susceptible to a form of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder more commonly seen in teens and people in their 20s. For some, the compulsions to force oneself to be skinnier and eat less may have re-emerged as they aged, but for others, including people in their 60s or 70s, the disorder is entirely new. With any age, however, anorexia can lead to permanent physical damage from starvation, even death.
Even people receiving hospice service can benefit from eating better. While they may not need to worry about long-term physical effects of poor nutrition, eating poorly or not at all can detract from their quality of life.
This month is a good opportunity for people in the Anamosa area to learn more about dietary challenges facing seniors, whether they’re in an assisted living situation, or receiving home care or hospice services. The National Council on Aging has declared Sept. 28-Oct. 2 to be Malnutrition Awareness Week.
The goal of the week is for more people to become aware of some of the warning signs that indicate that someone isn’t eating correctly, try to figure out why, and then look for ways to reverse this. It’s also an opportunity to connect with local resources to improve nutrition and overall health.
Searching for reasons
With the motto of “proper nutrition is key to healthy aging,” the NCOA encourages family members and caregivers to focus first on possible causes of poor eating habits. These can include:
- Finances: People worried about balancing their budget may cut back on spending on food, especially if there are larger fixed costs like medicine or rent.
- Medicine: Certain medications can decrease someone’s appetite, including some that may upset their stomach.
- Environment: Maybe a refrigerator isn’t working like it’s supposed to or food is spoiled or difficult to see due to poor lighting in a kitchen.
- Difficulty shopping: Perhaps someone isn’t comfortable driving or visiting a store on their own anymore or doesn’t know anyone to run these errands for them.
- Unfamiliarity with cooking: Someone may not know how to prepare healthy meals or correct portions.
- Dementia: One of the signs could be general confusion or forgetting past knowledge, including what to do in a kitchen.
- Depression: Symptoms can include a lack of interest in eating.
- Diet: If a provider has recommended a change in their meal ingredients, such as cutting out sodium, it can make food less appealing.
- Dental challenges: If it physically hurts to eat due to teeth, jaw or gum pain, it could make someone less interested in regular meals.
- Substance use/abuse: Chronic alcoholism can sometimes decrease appetite.
- Too many snacks: If someone fills up on unhealthy food, they may not be hungry for more nutritious food during traditional meal times.
In many cases, multiple factors can converge, which makes it difficult to find one effective solution to get someone eating better. For instance, the death of a spouse can lead to loneliness or unfamiliarity with cooking for one. Expensive but required medications can dig into the food budget. Lack of knowledge of nutrition can lead to less healthy choices.
People in hospice care in the Anamosa area may display some of these dietary challenges as well, including depression at their current status. Pain medications can also contribute to a desire not to want to eat healthily.
Just as there are multiple factors that can contribute to malnutrition, there are multiple ways to try to encourage better eating or break negative habits.
Though a general primary provider can assess someone’s nutritional needs and make recommendations, other medical professionals may need to be involved, everything from a dentist to look at possible problems chewing or teeth pain to a neurologist to see if there are any dementia-related problems. Even a handyman can be brought in to look at the person’s home if any mechanical fixes can help.
Home health care agencies such as Above and Beyond Home Health Care can also help patients, their families and any caregivers with access to other resources and services, everything from meal preparation to social interaction.
Hospice aides can also offer similar assistance, including providing or encouraging exercise opportunities, checking on a patient’s medications or eating schedule, or even providing social services.
For more information about the importance of nutrition, visit Above and Beyond Home Health Care.