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Good nutrition is critical to overall health and well-being — yet many older adults are at risk of inadequate nutrition. Malnutrition in older adults can lead to:
- A weak immune system, which increases the risk of infections
- Poor wound healing
- Muscle weakness, which can lead to falls and fractures
In addition, malnutrition can lead to further disinterest in eating or lack of appetite — which only exacerbates the problem. Older adults who are seriously ill and those who have dementia or have lost weight are especially vulnerable to the effects of poor nutrition.
Here are some steps suggested by the Mayo Clinic that family caregivers can take to reduce the likelihood of loved ones becoming malnourished:
- Engage doctors. If your loved one is losing weight, work with his or her doctors to identify — and address — any contributing factors. This might include changing medications that affect appetite, suspending any diet restrictions until your loved one is eating more effectively, and working with a dentist to treat oral pain or chewing problems.
- Encourage your loved one to eat foods packed with nutrients. Spread peanut or other nut butters on toast and crackers, fresh fruits, and raw vegetables. Sprinkle finely chopped nuts or wheat germ on yogurt, fruit and cereal. Add extra egg whites to scrambled eggs and omelets. Add cheese to sandwiches, vegetables, soups, rice and noodles.
- Restore life to bland food. Make a restricted diet more appealing by using lemon juice, herbs and spices. If loss of taste and smell is a problem, experiment with seasonings and recipes.
- Plan between-meal snacks. A piece of fruit or cheese, a spoonful of peanut butter, or a fruit smoothie can provide nutrients and calories.
- Encourage regular physical activity. Daily exercise — even if it’s light — can stimulate appetite and strengthen bones and muscles.
- Provide food-savings tips. If your loved one shops for groceries, encourage him or her to take a shopping list to the grocery store, check store fliers for sales and choose less expensive generic brands. Suggest splitting the cost of bulk goods or meals with a friend or neighbor, or frequenting restaurants that offer discounts for older adults.
- Consider outside help. If necessary, hire a home health aide to shop for groceries or prepare meals. Also consider Meals on Wheels and other community services, including home visits from nurses and registered dietitians.
It’s not just about eating healthy food, but appropriate quantities as well.