There are numerous factors that place the aged care population at nutritional risk. Adequate nutrition is integral to maintaining good general health yet it is something that often gets neglected. This blog will discuss some of the more common concerns and how they impact nutrition/health and can lead to malnutrition.
A significant number of elderly people will have had tooth extractions and therefore require dentures. This poses a risk to nutrition as dentures, whilst extremely useful, are not the same as natural teeth.
People with dentures often struggle to eat many foods such as tougher meats, crispy bread, corn, nuts and any food that is very hard/crunchy or fibrous. This therefore limits an individual to soft foods that will break down easily. Unfortunately, for some, this can take the joy out of eating and it will affect the types of food eaten/the amount of food eaten. Some people don’t actually know how to make a soft diet nutritionally adequate.
- A dietetic consult can assist in providing education on appropriate foods to eat with dentures/what to expect when transitioning to dentures for the first time. They can also ensure the soft diet is nutritionally adequate.
- Individuals should try to maintain a well balanced diet with variety from the 5 foods groups but they should consider easy substitutes for the foods they would have normally eaten e.g. a banana/tinned fruit instead of an apple.
Eating for one and social isolation
This is another very common issue. When someone’s partner passes away and they are left caring for just themselves, a lot of motivation is lost. Often they can also become socially isolated and this will decrease their mood which will impact appetite. They see no point in cooking a proper meal for just one and end up living off a ‘tea and toast’ diet and often skipping meals. Weight loss and malnutrition normally result from this.
- There are useful services available such as meals on wheels that will deliver nutritious options to the customer’s door.
- A one off or ongoing dietetic consult can assist in educating on simple, quick, nutritious meals and other tips to keep up intake and maintain nutritional status.
- Supportive family can check in to ensure their parents/ grandparents are eating properly and to provide meals. Providing some company can also make a big difference to mood and intake – people tend to eat better when socialising.
Dementia/Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease are other common occurrences in the aged population. Unfortunately, this often impacts someone’s ability to prepare food for themselves or even remember/be bothered to eat.
- As previously mentioned, services may be required such as Meals On Wheels. Alternatively family may have to play a large role in delivering meals and ensuring they are eaten, where possible. Many times the food brought over is left to go off in the fridge.
- If the situation gets worse, residential aged care may need to be considered.
Why malnutrition is a serious problem
A large number of elderly people become malnourished as there are multiple factors that can lead to it. A malnourished state can lead to deconditioning and increase the risk of falls as well as leading to a poor quality of life. If a person is hospitalised, this further increases the risk of becoming malnourished due to weight loss and inadequate intake. Poor nutrition stores will make healing and recovery more difficult and prolonged.
It is all too common that elderly people lose their partner and become very lonely. Their children are often busy with work and their own family and don’t have a lot of time to visit or call their parents. Unfortunately, they do not want to be a burden to their children and it often goes unnoticed how lonely, isolated and depressed they may be. Many spend the vast majority of their day at home, alone and with not much to occupy their time. Being present and even making an effort to make regular phone calls can make a significant difference to these people’s lives, mood and therefore appetite and wellbeing.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have questions about nutrition, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today!