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Malnutrition not uncommon in aging

Editor’s Note

Thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition in recent years, we are living longer than ever before. But this increase in life expectancy also brings an increase in the number of diseases, injuries and impairments that affect older adults. With this in mind, we at the local Visiting Angels office in Salem have created this series of articles to keep our older population and their families informed and to offer some practical advice for meeting the challenges faced by seniors and those who care for them.

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It is estimated that a quarter of all older adults in the United States suffers from malnutrition. This does not always mean that they are not getting enough to eat, although that is sometimes the case. It also could be that the food they are getting does not meet the nutritional requirements necessary to maintain proper weight or energy levels.

There are many reasons why older Americans may not be getting a well-balanced diet, and several of them have to do with the changes our bodies experience as we age. For one, our appetites can decline as we age, as can our senses of taste and smell. For those seniors who experience them, these declines can lead to a loss of interest in food and eating.

Some people also develop sensitivities to certain foods as they age. For example, a person may find it more difficult to digest dairy products in their later years, even though they were able to eat those foods when they were younger. Onions and spicy foods also give many older adults problems.

Many medical conditions can also make proper nutrition a challenge. Deterioration in the muscles or joints can lead to weakness and pain which may make preparing meals difficult. People with memory problems or dementia may inadvertently skip meals or forget to eat, while those with dentures or other oral health problems may find eating painful or difficult.

Some medications may affect a person’s appetite making food less desirable, and others may interact with certain foods, making that medication less effective when those foods are eaten. Older adults suffering from depression or dealing with the loss of a loved one may also find themselves with less of an appetite than they once had.

Seniors who experience joint pain or a limited range of motion which makes it difficult for them to prepare meals may come to rely on convenience foods such as fast food or premade frozen dinners. These meals, which are also commonly eaten by older Americans on fixed incomes, may help satisfy the appetite, but they are not always the most nutritious options available. They can be high in sodium, processes sugars, and saturated and trans fats, which may make conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol even worse.

While one person’s nutritional needs will not be the same as another’s, there are some steps seniors can take to maintain a well-balanced diet. Eating a diet high in nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy can give the body the carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals it needs without adding extra calories the body isn’t able to burn.

Fried foods and those with processed sugars should be eaten only occasionally or avoided altogether since they can contain more calories than an older adult is able to burn, and they often do not contain those nutrients the body needs to stay healthy. If a person consumes more calories than their body needs, they could experience weight gain or a loss of muscle mass, which may make mobility issues even worse in older adults.

A well-balanced diet for seniors also includes enough fiber, which helps keep the digestive tract healthy and prevents problem with constipation. Good sources of fiber are whole grains, bran and oats, fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans. Those who have trouble eating enough fiber may want to consider a fiber supplement and may want to ask their doctor if that is an option for them.

Seniors who have difficulty preparing their food and rely on premade meals still have some healthy option available to them. They can choose low-sodium frozen dinners, and canned or frozen vegetables with low sodium are also available, as are canned soups. In addition to fresh fruit, canned fruit with no sugar or sweetener added is a healthy option. Other options for vegetables include bagged salad and frozen vegetables in steamer bags.

Service organization which deliver hot, nutritious meals to seniors are also available in many areas. Mobile Meals provides meals to residents in Salem and Perry Township an can be reached at 330-332-2160 or info@salemmobilemeals.com . Meals on Wheels in East Liverpool can be reached at 330-386-5556, and Meals on Wheels in Mahoning County is available at 330-744-3583.

Those older adults having trouble maintaining a healthy diet may want to consider nutritional supplements to replenish those vitamins and minerals they aren’t getting through diet alone. However, they should discuss this option with their doctor or pharmacist before starting a supplement regimen, since some supplements may interfere with medications already being taken.

 Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines and familiar surroundings.

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