Older adults face a number of physical and medical challenges that can put them at risk for malnutrition. Seniors living at home as well as in assisted living facilities may struggle with taking in enough calories, meeting nutrient requirements and staying hydrated. Addressing changes that occur as people age can help ensure our mature population has adequate nutritional intake.
Appetite, Senses and Dietary Changes
Many people experience a decrease in appetite as they age. They simply do not feel as hungry as they did when they were younger. Part of that is due to a decrease in activity level and muscle mass, which lowers the caloric needs in older adults. The senses of taste and smell also change or become dulled with age, making food taste bland or less appealing. A diet that restricts sodium, sugar, animal fats, or other flavorful substances can also make eating less enjoyable.
Illness and Disabilities
Feeling unwell is a natural appetite suppressant, but sometimes the illness itself can interfere with the ability to eat, digest and absorb nutrients. People with dementia may forget to eat or become distracted and fail to finish their meal. Medications that are necessary to treat a health condition can cause a loss of appetite or cause other symptoms such as dry mouth that decrease the desire to eat. Some medications can interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals which can cause a deficiency even if the patient is taking in enough calories.
Dental health affects nutrition when older adults have issues with weak or missing teeth, untreated cavities or infections, poorly fitting dentures or jaw pain, or stiffness. Difficulties with chewing or swallowing food may cause people to avoid eating to prevent pain or discomfort. Muscle weakness and neurological issues such as numbness or tremors can make it difficult for patients to feed themselves.
Water is another important nutrient that elderly people often consume too little of. Many older adults gradually lose the ability to detect thirst as they age. Dehydration can become a serious problem for seniors who do not experience physical cues to prompt them to drink. Some medications require a large volume of fluid intake, especially if dry mouth is one of the side effects. Inadequate hydration affects cell and organ function and can lead to constipation and other digestive problems.
Effects of Malnutrition
Consuming too few calories or inadequate nutrients negatively impacts seniors' health in several ways. Poor nutrition harms the immune system, making it more difficult for elderly people to fight infections. Wounds are more difficult to heal when the immune system is compromised by malnutrition. Eating too little also increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. As bone mass decreases, the consequences of falls become more serious and harder to recover from. Malnourished seniors are also at greater risk of pernicious anemia, which is caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. The body cannot properly absorb B12 from foods, such as meat eggs, and as a result, produces fewer red blood cells.
For more information about elder care, reach out to a company such as Always Right Home Care.