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Senior Listening

There are numerous misconceptions surrounding malnutrition. What may come to mind when we think of malnutrition is third world countries however what we may not realize is even overweight individuals can be malnourished. Malnutrition put simply is an imbalance, lack of or excess of nutrients that results in health problems.

According to the National Council on Aging malnutrition in our senior citizens is “hiding in plain sight.” It is estimated that between 20 to 30 percent of older adults are malnourished.

Yvette Phillips, registered and licensed dietician, reminds us, “With aging our energy or calorie needs often decrease because of less activity and decreased lean body mass (less muscle). Even with this decrease in calorie needs nutrient requirements remain the same or in some cases increase as compared to younger adults.” Phillips adds, “For example, intake of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B6 is higher for older adults than for someone under fifty. As we age nutrient rich foods remain an important focus in the maintenance of our bodies. Include a variety of vegetables and fruits (choose many colors), lean protein, eggs, beans, nuts or nut butters, dairy, whole grains, while limiting sugars can give you the needed nutrition without excess calories.”

As we age our bodies are no longer as resilient as they were when we were under fifty. Many factors play into this as an aging body no longer functions as well. Just like an older vehicle we need to increase maintenance as time goes on to continue to operate at an optimal level. Poor nutrition can lead to medical conditions or exacerbation of existing medical conditions and memory loss. Lack of physical activity is a contributing factor. Absorption of some nutrients may also decrease as we age requiring a great intake to meet needs. So as our muscles become weaker, bodies become overweight, our digestive system slows down and thus contributes to injury and disease.

How does malnutrition affect the older body? Weak muscles and bones make it more difficult to do our activities for daily living such as bathing, dressing, and walking. Poor posture affects neck, shoulders and back. When there are issues with this one can experience pain and discomfort which could lead to a further decline in activity and function. Poor muscle condition further reduces one’s mobility and increases the likelihood of falls. Our eyes, brains, kidneys, and heart as well as all our organs are affected by a lack of proper nutrients.

Lack of adequate clean water can lead to a myriad of issues such as urinary tract infections, skin conditions, digestive issues, falls, pressure sores, weakness, fatigue and impaired memory. Older adults may not have as great a sense of thirst as they did when younger or may not have the ability to grab a glass or bottle of water.

Obstacles to good nutrition are not wanting to cook for one or two, not able to shop due to lack of transportation or frailty, inability to afford or have access to fresh nutritious food and physically or mentally not able to cook any longer. Another factor in malnutrition in seniors is poor dentition: oral pain, lack of teeth, poor condition of teeth and ill-fitting dentures all contribute to the inability of one to have adequate intake of nutritional food.

Nutritional programs which are part of the Older American’s Act are administered by the Administration on Aging who in turn provide grants to states and are overseen at the county levels by Area Agencies on Aging. These programs include congregate meals, home-delivered meals and nutrition services incentive programs which is in the form of USDA commodity foods. Another program the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is geared for lower income individuals and families and administered through the Office of Public Assistance.

For more information on these nutritional programs for seniors, contact your local Area on Aging 1-800-5513191 or your local Council on Aging.

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