12 Tips to Prevent Malnutrition in Older Americans
March is National Nutrition Month, and Senior Independence, the home and community based services division of Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services, would like to take this opportunity to raise awareness about nutrition and older adults. As we age, many factors can cause our eating habits to change. Chronic diseases that cause physical or cognitive limitations make it difficult for older people to fix, shop for, and consume foods. Dental problems can lead to the avoidance of nutritious foods that are crunchy or chewy such as vegetables and meats. Changes in the sense of smell and taste, a less active lifestyle and certain medications may lead to a decrease in appetite. Isolation and loneliness also correlate with poor nutrition among older adults. Because of these and other factors, people aged 85 and older have the highest risk of malnutrition in America.
Nutritional needs are different for older adults. Because of a decrease in activity and loss of muscle mass, older adults need fewer calories than younger people do; however, most nutrient needs stay the same, or increase. For instance, older adults only need an average of 1600 calories per day, but require more Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and calcium than their younger counterparts. So the key for older adults is to keep calories low and nutrients high, while bringing ease and enjoyment to preparing and eating food. The following tips can help:
Eat a variety of foods, using the “Food Guide Pyramid” to determine the types of food you should be eating. Keep in mind that older adults should eat plenty of fiber (beans, figs, prunes), calcium (low fat milk and yogurt, cheese, dark leafy greens, canned salmon), Vitamin D (fortified milk and cereals), and Vitamin C (citrus fruits, melons, green peppers, berries).
Drink plenty of water—at least 8 glasses a day—to help fiber move through the digestive tract and to give your kidneys a break by diluting waste products and toxins. Drinking lots of water also helps to diminish lines and wrinkles!
To compensate for loss of smell and taste, add herbs and spices such as garlic and lemon juice to your favorite meals. Choose foods that look interesting and have a variety of textures and temperatures.
Purchase frozen vegetables in bags—you can store whatever you don’t use in a single meal.
If you have problems with tooth loss or poorly fitting dentures, drink lots of water with your meals to help soften foods. Moisten your foods with sauces. Steam or microwave frozen vegetables to make them softer. Also, don’t hesitate to visit your dentist if tooth pain is limiting your ability to eat.
Have a weekly night out to a restaurant with friends or family, especially if you live alone. This activity can bring enjoyment back to eating and will help to ensure that you are getting enough calories.
Eat smaller meals more often, and allow plenty of time to dine. Make dining a special occasion by lighting candles, playing music or inviting a friend over for a meal.
Increase physical activity where possible to help build your appetite.
Organize your kitchen so that everything is within easy reach. Pans, pots or skillets that are used often can be stored right on the stovetop. A rolling teacart can be helpful for moving food and dishes about the kitchen.
Wear flat, slip resistant shoes in the kitchen, and remove scatter rugs to prevent slipping and falling.
Use a loud timer to prevent fires as a result of overcooking your food.
If preparing your own meals has become too difficult, then by all means sign up for a home delivered meals program. These programs offer up to three hot, nutritious meals a day, delivered right to your door. Consult your local Area Agency on Aging, your place of worship, or icaregiver.org to find out about services available in your area.