As people grow older, good nutrition is critical for quality of life and prevention of the downward spiral of decline in health.
In Canada, it is estimated that more than half of people hospitalized who are over the age of 65 are considered clinically malnourished.
Chronic disease, taking multiple medications, having dental or mouth problems, eating alone, lacking resources for access to healthy foods, and having dietary restrictions can all contribute to a person’s nutritional status that is lacking for optimum health and well being.
A weakened immune system, which leads to increased risk of infections, poor wound healing and muscle weakness that results in falls and fractures can be some results of poor nutrition.
In addition, poor eating habits can lead to further disinterest in meals and lack of appetite. This lack of interest only makes the problem worse.
What is malnutrition?
It may seem straightforward, but there’s more to malnutrition than simply not having access to food and a diet lacking in nutrients. In reality, it is more complicated than that. It can have complex causes as a result of a combination of physical, social and psychological issues.
Here are 10 key questions about food and nutrition to consider asking yourself if you are over 65 years old, or if you have a friend/family member who is elderly. Answering yes to any one of these critical questions indicates an increased risk of poor nutrition.
1) An illness that affects what I can eat.
2) Fewer than two meals a day.
3) Few fruits, vegetables or milk products.
4) Three or more drinks of wine, beer, or liquor daily.
5) Tooth or mouth problems.
6) Not enough money to buy the food I need.
7) Eaten alone most of the time.
8) Three or more different over-the-counter medications daily.
9) Lost or gained 10 pounds in last six months without wanting to.
10) Difficulties in shopping, cooking and/or feeding myself.
This nutritional health checklist is a screening tool for the elderly and offers important information that affects general health and well being.
How can a loved one assist an elderly person whose health is declining? Ideas such as visiting at mealtimes—not just special occasions, but regular mealtimes— at different times of day can help identify potential eating issues. Are clothes fitting differently and/or has weight changed unintentionally recently?
Does the medicine cabinet look crowded and have many over-the-counter, plus prescription medications that may be affecting health (and nutrient absorption) in a negative way?
Are there problems with cuts or wounds that don’t heal, or bruising too easily?
What about dentition and ability to chew and swallow foods adequately for good digestion and absorption? Bowel regularity affects overall nutritional status too. Is chronic constipation or diarrhea something that is a daily problem? Any of the above concerns may be a reason to seek more assistance through local physicians and/or health services.
There are many community resources available in Port Alberni that can be tapped into for help in guiding a strategy to improve an elderly person’s quality of life.
With the aging population and growing problems of complex health issues, identifying seniors at risk is important to provide the care and service they require for better health.
Next month: more information and practical tips for seniors looking to better their health.
Sandra Gentleman, RD, is a local Registered Dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.