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Challenges of Malnutrition Among the Elderly

Malnutrition is a Serious health Issue For Older Australians

Eating healthy and getting the required nutrients is crucial for the overall health and wellbeing of ageing Australians. So how can you identify the signs and risks of malnutrition for yourself or your loved one?

Health Related Reasons Impacting on Nutritional Status

There are so many reasons that people might not get their required nutrients. For older people they often lose their acute sense of smell and taste. This can lead to a reduction in appetite and overall desire to eat. But malnutrition isn’t a normal part of ageing.

If you or your loved one’s losing weight, it’s possible that there’s an underlying health condition. For example, you might be having difficulty with swallowing food, or you might be finding it increasingly challenging to prepare food.

Something else to consider is whether you’re remembering to eat. If you’ve noticed that you’re becoming increasingly forgetful and/ or confused, it’s a good idea to have a check-up at the doctor.

It’s also possible that the medications that you’re taking are affecting your memory, your appetite, or your ability to absorb nutrients. If you’re losing weight for no particular reason then it’s always a good idea to discuss this with your G.P.

Social Issues That Impact on Nutritional Status

Other factors that impact on somebody’s ability to eat healthy aren’t so obvious. It’s possible that they can’t afford enough food due to a low income. If this is the case for you, there are community services and charity organisations that could help you. Other people don’t eat enough food because they have difficulty in getting to the store to purchase groceries. This is due to factors such as limited mobility and no access to transport.

If you’re socially isolated, you might feel that you have nobody to help you with this. However, you could contact My Aged Care to discuss aged care support services that you might be eligible for. Government funded Home care packages should be tailored to meet your needs. If support with shopping is a need, then package funds can be used towards paying a support worker to grocery shop for you. Or your home care package could go towards meal delivery services.

You could also talk with your doctor regarding factors that are impacting on you getting enough nutrition. They should be able to offer you some advice on how to consume enough calories and get the nutritional requirements that you need, as well as point you in the right direction to access support services.

Why is Malnutrition Particularly Dangerous for Older Adults?

Malnutrition weakens the immune system which can then lead to infections. If you have a wound and your malnourished, wound healing is impaired.

Also people who are underweight and not absorbing or getting the nutrients that they need will be weak, have loss of muscle mass and bone mass. If this is the case, the risk of falls significantly increases.

Putting this all together, these factors increase the risk of hospitalisations and also preventable deaths among older Australians.

Preventing Malnutrition

If you’ve noticed that you’re losing weight without trying to do so, consider keeping a diary. By regularly monitoring your weight, keeping track of your medications and your diet, you can monitor your health habits and your nutritional habits. You also have something to show your doctor if the need arises.

When you go shopping, opt for foods that are rich in nutrients including wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Buy some herbs and spices and try to increase the flavours of your meals to make them more enjoyable.

Knife cutting capsicum

If you easily get full, why don’t you try to eat smaller amounts of food more frequently. A lot of people can’t handle large portions and therefore smaller, frequent meals become a better option.

You could also look at adding a fortified drink to your daily routine such as Sustagen. This will increase your calories and supply some of the vitamins and minerals that you’re lacking. Also a daily multi-vitamin could help you to feel better too.

If you’re losing muscle mass from weight loss, consider increasing your physical activity. Many gyms have exercise physiologists who are trained to help people exercise safely and work on building strength and balance.

Overall, if you’re losing weight you aren’t getting enough energy and you’ll need to increase your calories. A dietician could help you to work out an appropriate daily calorie intake and give you suggestions to eat more calories while still eating healthy. But if there’s an underlying health condition, diagnosis will be the key to an effective treatment plan.

Malnutrition can develop quickly, and correcting it becomes problematic. Evidence shows that malnutrition is more difficult to correct in older people.

If you or you’re loved one show signs of malnutrition, take action sooner rather than later and seek professional assistance.


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