Is your loved one eating less or not eating many healthy foods? Malnutrition is a growing problem among seniors. As we grow older, certain factors such as limited mobility, forgetfulness, difficulty cooking, or loss of appetite can cause seniors to consume unhealthy foods or skip meals entirely. If you’re concerned about your aging parent or loved one, here are some ways to recognize and prevent senior malnutrition.
What are some of the causes of senior malnutrition?
Loss of appetite
Many older adults don’t reach their nutritional goals due to changes in their appetite. One reason is due to a reduction in their sense of smell and taste, which changes how seniors perceive food and lessens their appetites. Certain medications can also cause a decreased appetite in older adults.. However, an outright loss of appetite could be the sign of a serious health problem, and you should consult a doctor to address your concerns.
Poor oral health and dental problems
Another factor leading to poor senior nutrition is dental problems that can cause inflammation and make chewing difficult. In a recent study, senior patients with dental issues were three times as likely to suffer from malnutrition than seniors without dental problems. Seniors often resort to choosing unhealthy, soft foods or not eating at all to compensate for their mouth pain. According to the study, improving seniors’ oral health and receiving frequent dental checkups can allow seniors to consume a wider variety of foods and improve their overall health.
Limited access to healthy, fresh food
An additional reason contributing to the rise of senior malnutrition is inadequate access to healthy and fresh food. For some seniors, factors like limited mobility, forgetfulness, or diminished driving skills can prevent them from making weekly grocery trips. Seniors living alone may not be motivated to cook or go grocery shopping alone and often eat in isolation, which can also exacerbate feelings of loneliness and stress.
How can I prevent senior malnutrition?
Increase nutrient density of meals, not the portion size
It is natural for older adults to experience less hunger as they age. Some may feel overwhelmed at the sight of a large portion before them. Reduce this anxiety by providing smaller portions of nutrient-dense, filling meals. You could also try getting them to eat five small meals or snacks throughout the day instead of three large meals.
Implement a regular eating schedule
If you’re the caregiver of a senior loved one, try implementing a daily schedule and serving meals and snacks at regular times. Older adults may have a decreased ability to sense hunger and thirst, so implementing a schedule can help them stay on track and maintain a healthy diet.
Encourage group meals
Eating is much more enjoyable when shared with others, and making meals a social activity can motivate seniors to eat more often and consume more nutritious options. Living in a retirement community is a great way to help seniors avoid isolation and increase their access to nutritious options. In a senior living community, residents don’t need to worry about grocery shopping or preparing complex meals. Many senior living communities also have frequent opportunities for dining at local restaurants, offering group transportation for residents. If you’re concerned about the nutritional health of a senior parent or loved one, moving to a retirement community can be a great way to help them maintain a more regular eating schedule and promote their overall health and wellness.