Home caregivers, especially those who are not regularly spending meal times with senior loved ones, may need to keep an eye out for signs of malnutrition. A recent article by Dr. Caroline J. Cederquist featured the startling statistic that one-third of senior patients admitted to a hospital are experiencing some form of malnutrition.
What is malnutrition?
Simply put, malnutrition occurs when a person either doesn’t get enough to eat or doesn’t get enough of the right foods to eat. The body is deprived of the nutrients it needs to function efficiently and successfully. (Home caregivers should note that any person, regardless of age, can become malnourished – including themselves.)
Malnutrition can be attributed to any number of factors, including:
- Lack of money. If a person lacks the income to purchase a sufficient quantity of healthy food, it’s quite easy to become malnourished. Seniors living on a very low fixed income can be especially susceptible.
- Inability to prepare food. Seniors with mobility issues, arthritis, or other concerns may find fixing food themselves difficult and may opt to subsist on food that is simpler to make but not properly nutritious.
- Dietary restrictions. As home caregivers know, many seniors are on diets with various restrictions (salt, dairy, gluten, protein, sugar, etc.) These restrictions are necessary to address other health issues, but they can sometimes make it challenging to take in adequate amounts of necessary nutrients. Seniors with dietary restrictions may benefit from seeing a nutritionist who can recommend ways to fulfill their nutrient goals while adhering to the recommended dietary restrictions.
- Health/medication factors. A number of health-related factors, such as poor dental health, medications that cause nausea, and a decreased sense of taste, may impact an individual’s ability to consume food properly.
- Isolation. For many older adults, a lack of eating companions can impact their eating habits. They may be less likely to eat when they should, may opt for easy but non-nutritious dinners, or may not feel as engaged in the eating process. Some studies show that eating with other people encourages an individual to eat more.
Home caregivers who believe that a senior loved one may be malnourished need to bring this matter up with a doctor promptly. Discuss what signs have been observed, and bring the loved one in for an examination. Developing a proper plan to ensure adequate nutrition is essential for the loved one’s continued health and quality of life.