Critter Corner: Senior Nutrition Tips for National Nutrition Month

Hayek 1Dear Hayek,

My sister eats like a bird and we worry she could be malnourished. Is there anything you can recommend to help her to get the daily nutrients her body needs? Thanks for your help!

Edie Ng-Helthie

Dear Edie,

March is National Nutrition Month, which makes it a great time to ensure you and your loved ones are eating healthy and getting the nutrients you need.

Good nutrition is important at any age, but many Americans aged 65 and over don’t eat enough of the nutrient-rich foods that their bodies need.

Why Do Seniors Get Malnourished?

Malnutrition in seniors can be caused by lack of appetite, swallowing difficulties, poor mobility, and other issues. The Mayo Clinic identifies malnutrition as a serious health problem in the aging population. They point out that seniors can become malnourished for these reasons:

  • Age-related smell, taste and appetite change;
  • Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia;
  • Chewing discomfort and swallowing difficulties;
  • Certain medications;
  • Mobility issues;
  • Depression caused by poor health, grief, or loneliness;
  • Limited income.

Malnutrition Causes Health Problems

Seniors that don’t eat a diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals are often placed at risk for these health problems:

  • Poor wound healing and slower recovery times after surgery;
  • Weakened immunity leading to infections and illnesses;
  • Muscle weakness and poor balance that can cause falls;
  • Decreased bone mass which promotes fractures;
  • Being hospitalized and even dying.

Helping a Senior Loved One Become More Healthy

There are several ways to help seniors improve their nutrition and take in the daily nutrients their bodies need:

  • Learn about which foods are the most beneficial for older bodies. For example, bone loss occurs frequently in seniors. That means they need to eat more food products with calcium and vitamin D (which is it essential for proper calcium absorption). A great place to start is an online nutrition source like eatright.org.
  • Meet with a nutritionist or registered dietician: Meet with a licensed dietician or nutritionist who can help your come up with an individualized diet plan. Health conditions may influence dietary intake. These can include diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and/or constipation.
  • Take her food shopping: When food shopping, avoid foods that are high in processed sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. If meal preparation is an issue, set up a meal delivery service that specializes in healthy meals for seniors.
  • Focus on fiber: Since constipation and elevated blood sugar are common in seniors, make sure your sister has enough natural fiber in their diet. Increasing the amounts of fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, and whole grains will provide much-needed fiber and nutrients that help the body normalize sugar levels and stay regular.
  • For seniors with chewing or swallowing difficulties, there are nutritious shakes such as Boost or Ensure. Or, get a blender and make your own version by mixing up fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, and maybe some sunflower seeds. Smoothies not only taste great, they’re easy to swallow, filling, and a great way to get in your healthy calories and nutrients!

Hope this is helpful. Stay healthy!

Hayek

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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