While there is a great deal of attention given to issues associated with senior hunger and food insecurity, there is a hidden epidemic that is on the rise within the senior community: This epidemic is malnutrition. One out of three seniors admitted to the hospital is malnourished: On average, seniors who are diagnosed with malnutrition remain hospitalized three times longer than those who are not. Furthermore, malnourishment can cause muscle loss (sarcopenia). Sarcopenia increases the likelihood that a senior will fall.
Costs Related to Disease-Associated Malnutrition
It is estimated that disease-associated malnutrition (DAM) is costing the U.S. almost $160 billion each year ($508 per resident): Nearly 80 percent of these costs are linked to morbidity due to DAM. Of the aforementioned $160 billion, $51.3 billion is connected with costs accumulated due to malnourished individuals within the senior population.
Coalition Forms to Address Senior Malnutrition
A new coalition has formed: DefeatMalnutrition.Today states, “When malnutrition is effectively measured, it can be effectively treated; further, it is important to know where the system is failing patients in this regard.” The coalition supports developing a national public health goal for DAM and is committed to promoting the idea that nutrition is a key indicator to the health of seniors in the U.S., working proactively to achieve legislative and regulatory solutions designed to assist in defeating malnutrition.
Revision of Hospital and Post-acute Care Policies is Essential
Hospitals and post-acute care facilities need to adjust practices so as to promote malnutrition screening and assessment consistently throughout a senior’s hospital stay or added to the routine blood work for seniors residing in assisted living communities. If these assessments are disregarded, an individual may be released from the hospital and then readmitted shortly thereafter; furthermore, a resident in an assisted living community may be admitted to the hospital due to complications associated with malnutrition.
To accomplish this:
- Health care providers need to document information related to all individuals who are identified as at risk of becoming malnourished or diagnosed with malnutrition: A treatment plan must be implemented that includes intervention and monitoring of these individuals.
- Malnutrition-related quality measures need to be integrated at both the community and clinical levels. This integration would confirm that screenings for malnutrition, in conjunction with interventions are being implemented.
5 Ways Caregivers Can Combat Senior Malnutrition
1. Health Care Providers Can Educate Seniors About Nutrition
Health care providers need to promote better nutrition education so that the seniors being served are aware that by consuming adequate amounts of calcium, Vitamins B12 and D, they are reducing their risk of falling.
When the body is neglected of protein, it struggles to maintain the muscles and immune system. This increases the chance of pressure sores forming, concerns related to the individual falling and suffering broken bones. Infections are also of concern.
Other issues that protein deficiency can cause:
- Loss of appetite
- Slow would healing
- Easy bruising
- Dental issues
2. Provide Daily Oral Supplements
Some seniors may have difficulty meeting their nutritional needs without oral supplements. A study published in Clinical Nutrition finds that using specialized nutrition supplements decreased the death rate of patients with lung or heart disease by 50 percent. Caregivers can provide seniors with these supplements as part of their daily meal program.
3. Offer Assistance Opening and Unwrapping Foods
The Nutrition Care in Canadian Hospitals Study states that 45 percent of the patients residing in the hospitals were undernourished; furthermore, the researchers discovered that approximately one-third of the patients in the hospital consumed less than half of the food they received. One of the reasons that patients neglected to eat their food was due to difficulty unwrapping food or opening packages. Caregivers can easily solve this problem by taking a moment to assist seniors in opening and unwrapping their foods, and beverages.
4. Limit Distractions at Mealtime
Another reason patients at the Canadian hospitals neglected to eat involved interruptions; therefore, it may be helpful if health care providers limit distractions at mealtime.
5. Incorporate the Daily Food Patterns Recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The following diet is recommended by the NIH for individuals aged 50 and older:
- 2 to 2 ½ cups of vegetables
- 2 to 2 ½ cups of fruit (½ cup of fruit is equal to ¼ cup of dried fruit or a 2-inch peach)
- 5 ½ ounces of foods high in protein (one egg, ½ an ounce of seeds or nuts, ¼ cup of tofu or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter are equivalent to one ounce of fish, meat or poultry)
- 2 to 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy (1 ½ to 2 ounces of cheese or one cup of yogurt are equivalent to 1 cup of milk)
- 7 to 8 ounces of Grains, half of which should be whole grains (½ cup of cooked pasta or rice, or a small muffin are equivalent to an ounce of grains)
- No more than 6 tablespoons of oil - this maximum amount includes the consumption of foods that contain a lot of oil (avocados, nuts and olives)
3 Practical Solutions for Stimulating a Senior’s Appetite
While it is normal for an individual’s appetite to change as he or she ages, there are several factors that can contribute to a senior’s loss of appetite:
- Changing taste buds
- Side effects from medication
- Health conditions
- Lacking the energy to cook
1. Create an Eating Schedule
Just as the body thrives off regularity, so do thirst and hunger signals; therefore, when an individual strays from his or her typical patterns, the appetite is affected. To reinstate regularity, and trigger the body’s hunger signals, start adding in a small snack and/or beverage during the senior’s usual meal time.
2. Check for Medication Side Effects
Certain medications can lead to dry mouth and/or affect the way that foods taste: Health care providers can assist seniors by encouraging them to brush their teeth frequently and use an oral rinse (that does not contain alcohol) prior to eating. Doing so may improve his or her taste sensation, which, in turn, will ultimately increase nutrient intake.
3. Use Food Substitutions When Necessary
Some medications can affect the taste of meat, if this is an issue, try incorporating other sources of protein (beans or dairy). If water tastes odd, enhance its flavor with sliced lemons, cucumbers or limes.
Even with senior malnutrition on the rise, a health care provider can address or prevent malnutrition; thus, assisting the seniors they care for in remaining active, feeling vital and staying healthier.