Malnutrition in Seniors
Malnutrition Normal Weight and Overweight
Malnutrition is a condition where a person does not get enough proper nutrients in their diet. Seniors are especially vulnerable for suffering from malnutrition. Even a normal weight or overweight senior can still be suffering from malnutrition – they get enough calories, but not enough of the right food to give them all the vitamins, minerals, protein and other nutrients that they need to stay healthy.
Signs of Malnutrition
- Sometimes the signs of malnutrition are simply put off to “getting old” so neither the senior or their loved ones take them seriously. A malnourished senior can have one or more of the following signs:
- Feeling weak and tired
- Little or no appetite
- Only eat small amounts of food
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling depressed
- Low resistance to infections – getting sick often
- Wounds take too long to heal
- Falling more often
- Getting a lot of bruises
- Gum problems
- Weight loss
- Constipation or diarrhea
Causes of Malnutrition in Seniors
Poverty and Stress
Many seniors live under very straightened financial circumstances. In fact, it is estimated that more than half of seniors over the age of 65 live under the poverty line. Sometimes there just is not enough money to buy good food, especially if they have to spend a lot for expensive medicines. This also leads to a tremendous amount of stress on an old person who can no longer go out to work to pay the bills or shop for quality food.
The National Council on Aging can help seniors find places to get help with paying for expensive medicines, food and many other benefits.
Also, most seniors who live under these extremely stressful conditions do not own a computer or smart phone and cannot access the Internet to find out where they can get help, so if you have a senior in your family or a neighbor who you think needs help, then contact the National Council on Aging.
No Strength or Motivation to Shop or Cook
Sometimes a senior just does not have enough strength or motivation to shop and prepare and cook a proper meal, especially if they are living alone. So they eat snack foods or quick foods that lack proper nutrients. This becomes a vicious cycle because eating more “junk” food without the necessary vitamins and nutrients will simply cause them to feel more tired and weak, so they will have even less strength and motivation to shop or cook.
Little or No Appetite
If a senior has lost their appetite, B complex vitamins can help them get it back, especially Vitamin B1 Thiamin. Check with your doctor.
Depressed people do not have an appetite to eat. Many seniors suffer from depression and it is imperative to get it treated.
Side Effects from Drugs
Some drugs cause fatigue and muscle weakness. Many drugs have side effects like a dry mouth, so a senior may only want to drink or eat moist foods. Some drugs simply take away a person’s appetite. Other drugs can cause gastro-intestinal problems like constipation or diarrhea or stomach pains. If a senior gets stomach pains every time they put food in their mouths or need to run every minute to the bathroom, they will soon lose the motivation to eat. Some drugs also can cause depression. Unfortunately, seniors may not realize that these are all side effects from drugs, so they do not always report these things to their doctors who could maybe change their prescriptions or dosages.
Some seniors suffer from dysphagia which makes swallowing food difficult, or painful and sometimes this can also lead to choking, so they begin to eat less.
Many seniors cannot afford dentures even if they have lost a lot of teeth. Even if they have dentures, it is still difficult to eat and chew many kinds of foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables like raw apples or carrots. In fact a blender can go a long way to getting a senior to eat more nutritious foods.
Many seniors suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and even though proper nutrition is part of their treatment process they still may not eat the way they are instructed to.
Some seniors suffer from malabsorption disorders that keep them from properly digesting and ingesting food. They can eat the best foods under the sun, but the foods do not get ingested into their bodies. This is sometimes also true for seniors who have duodenal or intestinal tumors. Most food is digested in the small intestines and so tumors or cancer can prevent the proper breakdown of food.
For many seniors malnutrition problems begin after they have to undergo an operation. Sometimes they are not able to eat for some time after surgery and they must have only intravenous or a food tube until they are healed. When it is time to begin eating again, they are not always able to get back into enjoying food.
Depending on what part of the brain is hit by a stroke, some seniors are left unable to eat properly or at all. Rehabilitation can sometimes help them regain the ability to eat independently, but often they can still only eat small bits of food.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Seniors suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s can have all kinds of eating problems.
Psychiatric Problems and Anorexia
Some seniors suffer from psychiatric problems like anorexia and simply refuse to eat. This more often attacks teenage girls, but it can also hit seniors with mental problems.
Proper nutrition is so important for seniors in order to prevent malnutrition and also to treat many chronic diseases that everything must be done to help motivate them to eat good nutritious foods.