There are 76 million adults age 50 and older in the United States and over 68% of them need to improve their diets! When senior adults are not eating well, they are at risk for many physical and mental problems, and they also cannot have the quality of life they want nor deserve. There are several reasons why a senior adult may not be eating well or have an optimal diet, whether they are living at home, or living in a residential facility.
Malnutrition in older adults is often hidden and increases slowly over time, especially in people who don’t seem at risk. There are studies that show residents of facilities can become malnourished even with trained dietary staff!
Malnutrition usually progresses slowly, which is why residential staff and medical personnel do not pick up on it. The examination of residents' nutritional habits is critical to maintaining health, strength and mental health. The support of a good immune system is crucial to fight off infections, to heal, for better quality and length of life. Unless, all of us address the need for optimal diets in our senior residents, unwarranted health issues can increase dramatically.
What happens if residents don't get the nutrition they need? Their probability of getting Osteoporosis can increase, leading to bone fractures, loss of strength and muscle mass, fatigue, depression, and weight loss. Residents may become prone to depression, an inability to off infections, low red blood cell count (anemia), blood clots, bed sores, increased frailty, and even increased risk of death.
Here are some reasons why residents may not be eating well, so you can investigate why and remedy the situation:
Medical Problems that may impact a residents diet quality
1. Medical problems may be affecting a person’s ability to shop, prepare meals or feed themselves. Not feeling well can lead to a pattern of not eating well which can increase the medical problem, create new ones and continues the feeling of being unwell and denies a person the ability to live life fully.
2. Many medications have physical and/or psychological side effects that can affect eating habits but also destroy precious vitamin reserves. Medications can cause changes in taste and smell, increased fatigue, increased constipation, increased or decreased thirst and many other possible manifestations that can impact how well a person eats.
3. Decreased saliva flow and constipation are two common problems that prevent senior adults from eating well.
4. The inability to control urination for both sexes is a major issue but not discussed and options found, often enough. People tend to drink less, in order, to prevent ‘wetting’ and thus become dehydrated.
5. Trouble swallowing, ill-fitting dentures, mouth sores, loose teeth and other oral issues can greatly influence what a senior adult will or can eat, and yet, this problem is often overlooked by doctors, dentists, and staff.
6. Problems with digesting, either caused by an undiagnosed medical issue or occurring as a side effect of medication may cause many senior adults not to eat.
7. Even if an elderly person eats an optimal diet but there seems to be issues, it could be that their body cannot absorb the nutrients that are being consumed. Even with an optimal diet, if the body is not digesting properly or absorbing the nutrients properly, problems will occur. Often, doctors do not check a person’s ability to absorb food.
8. Hospitalization or a nursing home stay can (likely) have a big toll on a senior adult’s nutritional health. The result of such institutionalization is often loss of appetite, weakness, weight loss, and debilitation. Once a person returns home (their own, with others or at an assisted living facility), the decline in nutritional health can continue.
There are several other reasons why senior adults may not be eating optimally and they need to be assessed, along with the medical reasons in order to determine the best corrective action.
Senior adults need medical and professional service providers, caregivers, residential staff and family members to be more alert and aware of how well they are eating, so corrective actions can be taken. Senior adults who better understand the value of an optimal diet for themselves will be better able to remain healthy and to live life more fully.
Taking care of the health of residents and educating them about the importance of good nutrition, we can live and promote richer lives.