September 23-27 marks Malnutrition Awareness Week, a program launched in 2012 by the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN). The program’s goal is threefold:
- Educate healthcare professionals to identify and treat for malnutrition earlier
- Educate consumers/patients to discuss their nutrition status with healthcare professionals
- Increase awareness of nutrition’s role in patient recovery
Even though the United States is the greatest food-producing country on earth, many of its citizens still go hungry. According to Feeding America, “40 million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including more than 12 million children.” Data also reveals that more than 50% of infants in the United States are on WIC — the federal food assistance program. Hunger also takes a toll on seniors, with more than 5 million older Americans facing food insecurity. While poverty is the primary driver of hunger in the United States, the picture becomes more complicated for older adults.
Seniors At Risk for Malnutrition
As a caregiving provider, most of our clients are seniors who need help with life’s basic tasks. We find that many of our new clients contact us after a senior relative suffered a fall in their home. For many families, this is the first sign an older relative may need outside help to continue living independently. As our caregivers begin to support these new clients, we discover that in most cases, the fall was caused by malnutrition or dehydration. Once our clients start eating regular, nutritious meals again, their health rapidly improves.
While financial issues certainly play a role for some of our clients, there are several other reasons why seniors struggle to feed themselves. They may include:
- Health Problems: Common age-related health issues like dementia, dental problems, difficulty swallowing, or abdominal issues can make eating difficult for seniors.
- Mobility Issues: Many seniors are home-bound, which makes trips to the grocery store all but impossible.
- Isolation: Without friends or family nearby, some seniors lose interest in cooking healthy meals.
- Dietary Restrictions: Many seniors are forced to limit their intake of certain foods to manage chronic disease. These restrictions can often make it more difficult for seniors to eat a healthy diet.
- Depression: Many older Americans suffer from depression, which causes loss of appetite.
Fortunately, skilled caregivers can help address many of these issues. By assisting with grocery shopping, cooking nutritious meals, and providing simple companionship, caregivers can boost their older client’s health and happiness.
Signs Your Older Loved One May be Malnourished
Of course, it should take a fall to realize something might be wrong. So how can family members spot the signs of senior malnutrition before it becomes a crisis? Here are three tips you can use:
- Watch How Your Loved One Eats: Make a point to visit your loved one during ordinary mealtimes and watch how they eat. Check if there’s food in the fridge and the pantry. If not, ask your loved one who buys their food for them?
- Watch for Weight Loss: One of the most obvious signs of malnutrition is weight loss. If your loved one begins to look slimmer, it may be time to investigate further.
- Stay Alert for Other Signs: Malnutrition can also cause other health problems. Wounds may not heal well, or your loved one may experience weakness, which could lead to falls.
- Monitor Medications: Pay attention to your loved one’s medications. Many affect nutrient absorption, digestion, and even appetite.
If you believe your loved one isn’t getting the nutrition they need, talk with their doctor. Then, it might be time to call a qualified caregiving provider for help. By understanding the root causes and staying alert, we can make senior malnutrition a thing of the past.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.
We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.