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Nutritional Deficiencies Associated With Old Age
Categories: Caregiving Articles, Medical Issues, Prevention, Senior Care Tips | Posted: 3/15/2016 | Views: 4075

As we age, it is important to continue choosing healthy foods. While many of us know this, older adults still have an increased risk of developing malnutrition. The reasons are many and varied. Not consuming the proper nutrient rich foods may be due to normal eating habit changes that occur as we age.

These normal aging issues include: loss of appetite due to decreased sense of taste and smell, difficulty chewing or swallowing, mobility issues that that interfere with meal prep or getting to the store and carrying groceries, medication side effects such as nausea, dry mouth, and gastrointestinal issues, depression and loneliness, financial concerns or lack of access to nutritional foods, and lack of desire to cook or nutritional knowledge

These factors can mean that many older people are not getting the essential vitamins, minerals and fiber leading to the acceleration of chronic illness. Nutrition has a major role in protecting health and slowing disease progression. Insufficient supply of proper nutrition can accelerate the natural aging process and promote the decline of cell renewal which is necessary to help guard against the loss of immunity defenses, muscle and bone mass loss, eyesight, hearing and cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, and more.

Signs of declining nutritional health are: notable changes in weight, muscle loss, decline in daily activities, and poor oral health. Then there is the opposite problem of obesity from too much of the wrong foods. The health risks for underweight older adults are, constipation, decreased immunity, lower body temperature, osteoporosis, decreased muscle strength, and poor memory. Overweight health risk are high blood pressure and cholesterol contributing to heart disease and stroke, gallbladder disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

7 Signs of Inadequate Nutrition*:

  1. Unexplained Fatigue a common side effect of iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia, excessive fatigue, heart disease, depression or thyroid disease.
  2. Brittle and Dry Hair: when an older person’s hair looks brittle, dry and sparse it is often a sign of an inadequate diet. While some hair loss is normal with aging, brittle hair can signal a lack of essential fatty acids, protein, iron and other nutrients.
  3. Ridged or Spoon-Shaped Nails: A spoon-shaped nail, where the nail curves up like a spoon, can be an indicator of iron-deficiency.
  4. Mouth Problems: The corners of the mouth will crack or become inflamed which is a warning sign of riboflavin (B2) or iron deficiencies. A burning mouth sensation may arise when iron, zinc, or vitamin B levels fall below the required levels.
  5. Diarrhea: Chronic diarrhea can be a sign that nutrients are not being fully absorbed by your body. This is called malabsorption and can be triggered by infection, surgery, certain drugs, heavy use of alcohol, and digestive disorders.
  6. Apathy or Irritability: Unexplained mood changes, especially showing a lack of interest or being irritable, can be symptoms of serious medical illness like depression.
  7. Lack of appetite: Food no longer taste good because the taste buds have lost their sensitivity. With less calories being burned the appetite often diminishes. This is a serious warning sign of nutritional deficiencies.

*Adapted from WebMD

It is important that meals and snacks are used as a proper source for nutrition. Some ways to help seniors get the nutrition they need is to flavor foods with fresh herbs and spice and avoid salt as much as you can. Offer nutritional shakes, juices and other nutrient packed drinks. Hydration is also important as their thirst often diminishes. Dehydration can have detrimental effects so be sure they get plenty of fluids. Keep plenty of healthy foods and snacks accessible. Promoting daily exercise may stimulate the appetite while promoting strong muscle and bone health. Center social activities around meals making meal time more fun. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day that are packed with important nutrients. If you feel that a vitamin supplement may be needed, talk to the physician to be sure they are getting the proper supplements.


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