By 2030, Americans over the age of 65 will reach 71 million, approximately 20% of our population. Further, almost 90% of Americans over the age of 65 have one or more degenerative disorders. These conditions were once thought to be a natural consequence of aging but there is now evidence that many conditions like heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes can be either prevented or lessened by ongoing good nutrition and exercise.

There are increasing obstacles to proper nutrition as we age: Chronic illness, recent hospitalizations, depression, mal absorption, medications, dental problems, diminished taste and smell, restricted diets, limited income, loneliness and isolation. However, it is important to realize that without the proper mix of fuel and nutrients, symptoms of malnutrition can appear and increase the symptoms and debilitation of any of the above listed conditions. In essence it is a vicious cycle that can only be broken by a commitment to learn and apply better eating habits.

Malnutrition can be seen as increased forgetfulness, dehydration, frailty, delayed wound healing and decreased muscle mass that can lead to falls and fractures. Indirectly, malnutrition could be a significant factor in many hospital stays and lengthy rehabilitations. Additionally, it can make worse any chronic conditions.

Some seniors may be at a healthy or even heavy weight, but still experience malnutrition. Because metabolism can decline by as much as 30% in people over 50, it is important to eat fewer calories. With fewer calories, we run the risk of fewer nutrients, so the foods must be packed with nutrients. A good start is to limit overly processed high-carb, high-fat, nutrient deficient foods and increasing nutrient rich foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains breads and pastas and to add supplement drinks if necessary. A multivitamin will also go a long way to maintain your stores if your nutrient intake varies day to day.

To help a senior that you suspect of being malnourished, approach the situation delicately. As mentioned above there may be many reasons to not eat properly and you don’t want that person to become defensive and clam up. Eat with them, observe. Is there plenty of protein, fiber and healthy fats in each meal? Are vegetables and fruit included in each meal? Are most meals cooked at home, from scratch and healthy sources? If so, then they are on their way to good nutrition. Next, find out if they are supplementing their diet with a multivitamin or nutrition shake. This can be done by placing the items in the home and periodically checking to see if they have been used. See how much they eat at every meal. A good measure for amount is the size of their fist. If it less than that, try to determine if they are eating more frequently. Many seniors cannot eat 3 large meals and choose to eat more often with smaller portions. As long as the smaller portions and snacks equal 5 a day, throughout the day, all is well.

If a senior is malnourished there are several things that you can do with and for them to encourage healthier/sufficient eating:
Enrich! Add healthy proteins and health fats, like cheese, nuts and nutbutters. Cheese can be mixed in to a wide variety of otherwise bland and calorie deficient foods. Nutbutters are great on crackers and a slice of bread, add a little fruit spread if the diet permits, to moisten and make it easier to swallow. Nuts are great for snacks. Over the day these calories can add up and they are providing rich and healthy oils for the body.

Spice it up! Add some herbs, lemon, seasonings, as tolerated and enjoyed to make the food more flavorful and enjoyable. Make sure you check sodium levels. An adult should take in no more than 1500mg per day.

Socialize! Get them out or invite yourself over. Eating is a social behavior. We all eat much more when we are in the company of others. This has the dual benefit of providing an anticipated event and the eventual company, which can help to alleviate mild depression.

Get Moving! Exercise gets everything in the body working more efficiently. Encourage walking, biking, chair exercises, swimming, WHATEVER that is possible to do safely and comfortably. The idea is to move the body every day. Metabolism will increase, mood will lighten, appetite will increase. Again, if you are at a loss for options, contact your health care provider for resources.

Supplement! Take a daily vitamin to cover any gaps in nutrition.

Hydrate! As we age we lose the ability to sense thirst. Aim to get 8 glasses of water per day. Other sources of water such soups, water-rich foods like melons and decaffeinated teas and coffees may be a more palatable way of getting enough fluids every day.

Call the Doctor! If you suspect depression or lack of appetite due to medications or ANY other underlying issues, call the doctor. Many times they will be able to do an overview of health and medications to discover or eliminate possible reasons for a lack of appetite.

This article is meant as general advice. It is not medical advice. I encourage anyone who suspects that they or someone they love is malnourished to see their health care practitioner as soon as possible in order to establish an individualized plan that will put you back on track to better health.

Author's Bio: 

Submitted by Gabriela F. Brown, CSA and Owner of Constant Companions Home Care, in San Diego and S. Riverside, CA. Contact Info: