In the midst of daily life, it’s not uncommon for people to push their body’s nutritional needs to the back burner. Think, for instance, of all the times breakfast has been a bagel and a cup of coffee, instead of a more well-rounded meal to start the day.
When it comes to nourishment, people can get away with the bare minimum for a while. But what the body needs to function never stays quite the same. This is especially true as the body ages. But what exactly changes in the body that makes paying closer attention to nutrition so important?
For starters, people experience a gradual loss in muscle mass starting in the 30s, and develop a slower metabolism. Bone density also decreases, and organ tissue begins to thin. People don’t often think about these changes because the focus is largely on aging’s effect on physical appearance. But despite these changes, the body still requires the same essential nutrients, including protein, vitamins and minerals, and sometimes in larger number. The challenge is that, because of the slowed metabolism, the body doesn't need as many calories, making it vital to choose foods that are nutrient-rich.
In addition to the physiological changes that take place, seniors may also begin to find less pleasure in eating. Acquiring healthy food may become more difficult, especially if driving is no longer possible. Many seniors find themselves experiencing a loss of appetite or motivation to eat because of their loneliness. Throughout life, meals are often accompanied by social interaction with friends and family. For a senior living alone, the thought of eating may further emphasize his or her lack of companionship.
All of these changes can culminate in malnutrition, a condition that can lead to a rapid decline in health or exacerbate pre-existing health issues. And while it’s estimated that nearly five million seniors are at risk of malnutrition, it’s a condition that is often missed or not properly diagnosed. Fortunately, there are ways for family caregivers to help their loved ones reduce the risk of malnutrition.
Reducing the Risk of Malnutrition
- Make meals more social. Schedule days of the week to go over to a loved one’s home to help prepare meals and provide company. If being present isn't possible, do a video call with them during dinner time.
- Educate seniors on the importance of nutrient-rich foods. While seniors may know that they need to eat nutritious foods, there may be some confusion on how to go about doing it. Plan a shopping trip with them to identify what to get each week, with consideration of the major food groups.
- Consider meal delivery. Whether it’s through Meals on Wheels or subscription services like Blue Apron or HelloFresh, there are a number of alternatives that aging adults can rely on to get nutritious, well-rounded meals.
- Keep communication open. When in doubt, pay close attention to any changes in a senior’s behavior and be sure to express any concerns about their eating habits. Emotion can play a significant role in nourishment, so it’s important for aging adults to know that they can about how they’re feeling.
- Consult his or her physician. If a caregiver notices that a senior isn’t eating properly, or at all, make sure to work with his or her physician to see what the root cause may be. For instance, a loss of appetite may be caused by a certain mediation, which will then need to be adjusted accordingly. Physician input is especially important if there’s any pre-existing conditions, in which case more specific dietary guidance will be given.
Comfort Keepers Can Help
Being there for an aging loved ones and helping to personally identify when there’s a problem with their nutrition is important, but it can’t be done alone. That’s where Comfort Keepers comes in. Comfort Keepers helps seniors live healthy, independent lives in their own homes. Comfort Keepers understands how important nutrition is to senior wellbeing, and provides assistance in preparing healthy, nutritious meals. They can also offer companionship care so that seniors have company while they eat. Additionally, Comfort Keepers can help seniors get to the grocery store and find foods that follow the diet prescribed by their physician. Contact 603-536-6060 or visit www.comfortkeepers.com/plymouthnh for more information.