Malnutrition is one health threat you probably never worry about experiencing personally. You may be surprised, however, to learn that malnutrition is actually a growing problem for older Americans and a danger for many people as they age. In fact, research has shown that many seniors admitted to hospitals in the United States are found to be malnourished.
One of the reasons there is a increased risk that we may become malnourished in our later years is because our taste buds become less sensitive as we age. Food can start seeming bland and flavorless. In addition, our teeth and the muscles we use to chew can weaken, making it more difficult to chew. Eating can then become far less enjoyable and turn into more of a chore. As a result, it is quite easy to start eating less without even realizing it.
When we do eat, we may concentrate more effort on finding something that actually “tastes good” rather than on making sure something is nutritious. But, proper nutrition is vital in our later years. Eating a diet that supplies the right nutrients gives us energy, supports overall health and well-being, and helps strengthen the immune system.
According to the Gerontological Society of America, there are many reasons why older people are at higher risk for malnutrition. Very often, people in their later years are taking medications that can reduce their hunger dramatically. Others may experience a decline in their physical abilities that makes it more difficult to prepare meals. Some people, especially those living alone, may simply forget to eat or skip meals because they find it tedious to prepare meals for only one person. Others may begin eating less because they are depressed or grieving. In addition, malnutrition can be the result of underlying, undiagnosed medical conditions.
It is important to understand that weight is not an accurate gauge of whether or not someone is well nourished. You can be overweight – even obese – and still be malnourished. People with plenty of “meat on their bones” may not be eating the right foods or getting the exercise they need to support their bodies and maintain good health and well-being. Despite their weight, they could indeed be suffering from malnutrition.
Regular medical checkups can identify nutrition-related problems early. When you visit your doctor make sure to bring up the topic of nutrition. Your doctor will be able to help you make sure you are consuming a healthy diet and following an exercise plan that is tailored to your specific needs and abilities. He or she may recommend supplementing your diet in some way.
Drink plenty of water and eat fruits that contain water, such as fruits and vegetables.
Plan your meals. Don’t wait until you are hungry and then simply throw something together.
Eat many small meals and snacks throughout the day instead of the traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Enhance your typical menu by trying new foods.
Include nutrient-rich foods in every meal and snack.
Keep healthy, nutritious foods on hand that are convenient and easy to prepare.
Cook meals in advance. Store them in your refrigerator or freezer.
Use fresh herbs and spices to enhance flavor.
Someone with mild to moderate malnutrition may show few signs of the condition.The following symptoms can be evidence of malnutrition.
Make mealtime an enjoyable and social experience. Invite family and/or friends to join you.
Exercise on a regular basis at a level appropriate to your physical abilities to stimulate your appetite.
Do not fill up on foods without nutritional value.