Many senior citizens are at risk for malnutrition. In fact, 38% of seniors living at home, and 67% of those living in skilled nursing facilities are either already malnourished, or at risk for malnutrition. Seniors living in their own homes often turn to food that is easy to prepare, or just simply convenient. This often leads to a diet consisting mainly of bread, processed foods, or coffee and soda. This type of diet lacks any significant nutrients, vitamins, or minerals that the human body needs to function, and results in malnutrition even in the absence of hunger. Seniors who are living in skilled nursing facilities may become at risk for malnutrition even though they are highly monitored as their cognition declines and they begin to lack the skills to chew and/or swallow.
There are also several other factors that influence these statistics.
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- Inability to Drive. Seniors who lack transportation to the grocery store where they can regularly purchase fresh produce, protein, or dairy products are forced to choose more processed foods which lack crucial nutrients
- Isolation. Seniors may feel that cooking for one is too much work, or a waste of time
Be sure to watch for common signs of malnutrition risk in the elderly such as:
- Weight loss
- Unusual bruising
- Cuts or other wounds that take longer than normal to heal
- Mouth sores or damage to teeth
- Muscle weakness
- Injury due to a fall
- Confusion, memory loss, or other cognitive decline
- Weakened immune system. This is the most serious risk of them all, causing seniors to contract an infection more easily, or to be ill for longer periods of time.
It can be tricky to encourage your loved one to eat a more balanced diet. Here are some ways to promote healthier eating:
- Flavor. Use spices, herbs, citrus, umami to make food more interesting and palatable
- Color. Make their plate more visually appealing with a variety of vegetables and fruits
- Snacks. Find healthy morning and afternoon options they enjoy that will help them to not choose candy, cookies, soda, etc.
- See a physician. Ask a doctor for a checkup that may help to identify any potential pain(s) that may be preventing a senior from eating