Nourishment Needed for Half of Seniors

One in two U.S. seniors doesn’t get adequate nutrition

WRITTEN BY Skip Johnson

America may be a land of plenty, but malnutrition remains a major concern for the nation’s elderly. In fact, nearly half of seniors in this country aren’t getting the nutrients their bodies need to function, reports the Administration for Community Living. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re hungry, though. “Malnutrition occurs when a person doesn’t get enough calories with the right nutrients, including protein and other essential vitamins,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Chase Yonce, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated primary care doctor. Red flags include unplanned weight loss, feeling tired or weak, swelling, loss of appetite and the ability to eat only small amounts.

A number of risk factors make the elderly specifically vulnerable to malnutrition. “As people age, they may develop chronic health conditions. Treatments such as restricted diets and prescriptions can then cause appetite changes or impact taste and smell,” explains Dr. Yonce. (Diabetes, cancer, dementia and depression are leading culprits.) Seniors may also struggle with chewing, swallowing, handling utensils or accessing and preparing nutritious food.

Malnutrition is especially dangerous for older individuals, who usually suffer greater complications than their younger counterparts. “Seniors are more likely to be hospitalized, and those stays tend to be longer and more challenging,” continues the doctor. The condition also makes a person more susceptible to falling.

Annual physical exams are essential for providing lab results and a solid medical history to inform a treatment plan. “We can do a lot to calculate someone’s protein requirements,” says Dr. Yonce, who helps outline well-rounded meals for his patients. He also stresses regular physical activity, especially resistance workouts, to develop and maintain a healthy appetite.

Dining Plan

Good nutrition is crucial to good health, no matter your age. People 65 years and older can ensure they’re consuming the right balance of protein, calories and essential vitamins with these 10 steps:

• Eat five small meals a day rather than three larger ones.
• Ask your health provider to map out a handful of nutritious meals.
• Use herbs and spices to spark up the taste of food.
• Include nutrient-dense, protein-rich foods like nuts, seeds, canned meats, eggs and dairy.
• Look for precooked meals at the grocery store.
• Keep a supply of frozen or canned fruits and vegetables on hand.
• Drink protein shakes between meals.
• Enjoy a high-calorie snack, such as yogurt or peanut butter crackers, before bed.
• Take doctor-approved supplements correctly.
• Exercise daily to work up an appetite.

Photographs By (shopping) wavebreakmedia; (food) margouillat photo