When we hear the word malnutrition we tend to think of people starving in third world countries, but in truth malnutrition can exist among the elderly in the United States. Malnutrition is not starvation, but it means that even if someone is getting enough food, they may not be getting good quality food that contains enough proper nutrients like vitamins, minerals and protein in their diets. In fact, a person can be overweight, but lack the proper diet to remain healthy.
Signs that your Loved One May be Suffering from Malnutrition
Many signs of malnutrition get overlooked because seniors and their family members believe the symptoms are just a part of normal aging. Also, many of the signs of malnutrition can also be symptoms of many chronic illnesses. However, if you or your loved one have any of the following it could mean that you are not getting the proper food to keep you healthy in your old age.
- Feeling weak and tired
- Little or no appetite
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling depressed
- Eating only small amounts of food which may be snack or junk food
- Getting sick a lot with a low resistance to infection
- Slow wound healing
- Falling more often which might be from dizziness
- Constipation or diarrhea or both
- Tendency to a lot of bruises
- Gum problems
- Weight loss
Why Seniors get Malnutrition
Low Income, Poverty and Stress
Low Income, poverty and stress are some of the main reasons seniors do not eat well. In fact, it is estimated that half of American seniors over the age of 65 live under the poverty line.
High Costs of Medicines
The high costs of medicines may leave seniors without enough money to buy good healthy food. Seniors can get help with paying for medicines and also food from the National Council on Aging. They have an online benefits check up where you can find out what benefits you or your loved one are entitled to receive.
Loneliness and Isolation
Sometimes a senior living alone may be isolated from family and friends and does not have the strength or motivation to cook a proper meal only for themselves. In many cases they fill up on snack or fast foods.
Depression, Mental Illness and Anorexia
It is important to find out if your loved one is suffering from depression or mental illness, as this needs medical intervention and they may need prescribed anti-depressant drugs. Also, drugs used to treat mental illness and depression can sometimes have side-effects that can lead to eating problems. Anorexia is a mental problem often found in teenage girls when a person does not want to eat at all and this can also sometimes be found in seniors.
Side Effects from Medicines
Seniors often have to take a lot of prescribed medicines for chronic illnesses and some drugs have side-effects like a lack of appetite, dry mouth, muscle weakness and fatigue. Some drugs also can cause diarrhea or constipation, heart burn and stomach and abdominal pain. It is very important to check with your doctor if any symptoms like these can be side effects from medicines. Sometimes lowering the dosage or changing to a different drug can solve the problem.
Sometimes even if a person eats the best healthy foods they have malabsorption problems and the foods do not get ingested.
Treatment for Cancer
Chemotherapy can cause side effects like nausea. If a person vomits a lot they are going to lose all kinds of necessary nutrients.
Many operations can cause eating problems during the recovery period.
Many stroke survivors have to re-learn how to feed themselves after having had a stroke.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
A senior suffering from dementia can have all kinds of eating problems.
Short or Long-Term Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Care
In a skilled rehab and nursing facility a senior may actually be more motivated to eat, as there is also more socialization, eating in a fine dining atmosphere, etc. Take a good look at the menus and dining area when you are looking for a residential rehab or skilled nursing care facility for your loved one.
Fine Healthy Dining at the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing
The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York offers fine dining with good healthy choices on their menu prepared by a chef under the guidance of a dietitian. Read more about fine dining, recreation and other amenities at Van Duyn in our blog post from May 30, 2018.
It certainly pays to be on the look-out for signs of malnutrition in your loved one, as good nutrition contributes so much to good physical and mental health.