It’s not often obvious, but as your loved one ages physical changes are taking place that affect how they process food and get (or don’t get) the nutrition they need. Other changes concerning nutrition in older adults are easier to see such as challenges getting to the grocery store, preparing healthy and appetizing meals, chewing and swallowing, and for some, lack of appetite or forgetting to eat at all. Take a look at reasons for poor nutrition in older adults and signs that your loved one may be at risk.
Changes within that may cause poor nutrition
Aging means changes are happening and one of the least known is that the body no longer is able to get all the nutrition they used to get from eating the same foods they have always eaten. In the stomach, for example, one study noted in the article “Aging, Nutritional Status and Health” found seniors living on their own came up short on vitamins C and D, calcium, folate, zinc and magnesium. Since none of these “micronutrients” except vitamin D are produced by the body they must be obtained through diet or supplements.
Other changes that aren’t readily apparent are how taste and smell diminish with time, impacting appetite, and changes to metabolism brought on by the loss of muscle mass which can result in a lower metabolic rate and thus a decreased need for calories. That means consuming high calorie foods may result in increased body fat, obesity and health problems like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
Changes in health to watch for
Other physical changes that can impact nutrition include trouble chewing food due to poor dental health or dentures that don’t fit well. When chewing hurts, or a senior avoids foods that must be chewed, a visit to a dentist may reveal the problem and the cure.
Another roadblock to good nutrition in older adults is problems swallowing or dysphagia. According to the mayoclinic.org article, “Dysphagia,” there are many causes including esophageal problems like achalasia, tumors, spasms, and scars, but other causes include diseases like multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson’s disease, strokes and brain or spinal injuries, and some cancer treatments.
If a senior loved one forgets to eat or says they already ate when they didn’t it may be a sign of memory problems such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and not just normal forgetfulness. In this case a physician should evaluate them to ensure they get the care they need.
Other signs of potential poor nutrition in older adults are depression and loneliness. When a loved one suffers a traumatic loss such as of a partner or spouse or has become isolated, nutrition may suffer. Among the many symptoms are fatigue, apathy, difficulty making decisions, memory problems, and loss of appetite. Again, a physician should be consulted to determine the best treatment options.
Download our free Guide to Aging Well to learn more about the habits of the “super agers” around the world.
The risk of poor nutrition is higher than you think
While health problems and conditions are often implicated in poor nutrition in older adults, one study, “Malnutrition among cognitively intact, noncritically ill older adults in the emergency department” found that as many as 60% of cognitively intact adults age 65 or older seen in one emergency department were either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition.
One way to improve nutrition in older adults is to help them better understand some of the basics of eating well as they age. For example, eating foods that are nutrient rich, but lower in calories, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables to get not only vitamins and minerals but fiber too, and avoiding foods that are high in unhealthy saturated fats, salt, and added sugars should be addressed.
For seniors who do their own grocery shopping, understanding the new nutrition labels on foods can be a great help in improving nutrition in older adults. For a look at the changes and how to read the labels, check out our blog, “Nutrition Labels 101: Making Sense of the Facts for Better Senior Nutrition.”
Ways to help older adults get proper nutrition
Families can help eliminate the threat from poor nutrition in older adults simply in several ways. One is to help with grocery shopping and meal planning so their loved one can prepare healthful meals every day. Another option is to provide meals either home-cooked or through local services like Meals on Wheels.
For many seniors, however, the best solution may be a move to a senior living community like Sonrisa Senior Living where nutritious chef-prepared meals are a daily event and local eateries and food options are diverse and plentiful. Find out more in our blog, “Dining in Roseville – Great options for Retirees.”
At Sonrisa, we pride ourselves on our luxury lifestyle, amenities and services designed to make it easy for residents to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Download our free Guide to Aging Well or contact us today to learn more!