How to detect and prevent malnutrition in senior loved ones

Though we may require fewer calories as we age, we need more protein and other essential vitamins and minerals. A well balanced diet rich in proteins, authentic food, and vegetables is not only physically beneficial, but also helps with an elderly’s mental health. And yet, malnutrition is one of the leading causes of senior frailty. Know what to look out for, study how you can help, and apply preventive measures.

What to look out for

Malnutrition can lead to a weakened immune system, poor injury recovery, muscle weakness, and frailty. Detecting malnutrition is not easy as it progressive and can happen over many years. The first and foremost indication that a loved one has malnutrition is extreme weight loss, but other more subtle signs can stack up:

  • Pale, grayish, thin, and cold skin
  • Little to no stamina
  • Uncharacteristic irritability
  • Depression
  • lack of appetite or uninterested in proper meals
  • Trouble chewing and swallowing
  • Constantly in pain
  • Often ill and slow in recovery
  • Weak muscles resulting frequent falls

If you observe any or a combination of these symptoms in your loved one, taking action early will promote an all over higher quality of life.1

What could contribute to malnutrition

Just looking at the symptoms and treating them may fix the immediate problem, but taking care of the factors that contribute to those symptoms is a must too. Malnutrition is not caused by one single thing, but a combination and here are common factors that contribute to it:2

  • Aging
  • Long Term illnesses
  • Physical disabilities
  • Medication
  • Substance abuse
  • Fluctuating changes in taste buds
  • Restricted diet to other illnesses
  • Poor dental health
  • Diagnosed or undiagnosed depression
  • Dementia

Tips for preventing malnutrition

The obvious way to counter malnutrition is food, but you as a caregiver should continue to do these things:3

Get professional advice: You may be the one who knows your loved one best, but getting a professional medical diagnostic will help you provide better care. It is also important that before making major decisions, a professional’s advice will help reduce injuries and increase effectiveness of the solutions.

Medication: Learn each of their side effects. Certain medications can affect taste and appetite so monitor what appetite changes correlate with which medications.

Monitor weight: keep a record of their weight overtime. It will differ from one elderly to another and the easiest way to see is by seeing how their favorite clothes fit.

Regular Exercise: from walking to strength training to physical therapy, can give a senior stamina and mobility, thus increasing appetite.

Nutrient Rich Foods: Throwing in eating out or enjoying meals together with other people, make sure they all include fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and less processed grains. Change up the recipes or method of cooking to create variety and plan for adding more nutritious healthy snacks in between meals. If you feel like you need more help here, nutritional supplements can be seen as an option. Supplements like Ensure have been especially formulated with daily required vitamins and minerals with years of research to fill in nutrition gaps for adults.4

References:

  1. https://www.uewhealth.com/warning-signs-malnutrition-elderly/
  2. https://www.prestige-nursing.co.uk/diet/elderly-malnutrition/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/senior-health/art-20044699
  4. https://abbottfamily.com.sg/brands/ensure/range