Malnutrition typically is not something that you would think is major problem in New York City (not with popular media in recent years consistently sharing messages about America’s obesity epidemic). Yet there is a segment of the population that is particularly prone to malnutrition: the elderly. Helping your loved one maintain a healthy diet can be quite difficult given his or her special nutritional needs. It is mainly for this reason why many entrust the care of their elderly family members and friends to nursing homes. Unfortunately, cases of nutritional neglect occur in such facilities, with caregivers either intentionally withholding food from residents or neglecting to see if they are eating. Yet why is nutrition so important for the elderly?
The affects that aging can have on the body are well-known (you may even be recognizing them with your elderly loved one). They include:
- Pathological weight loss
- Cognitive deficits
- Loss of muscle mass and coordination
- Immune deficiencies
Research results shared by the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association show that many of these problems can be mitigated (and in some cases, even reversed) through a well-balanced diet. Healthy snacks (including fruits and vegetables) as well as increasing facility dining choices (like offering a buffet-style menu) have been shown to combat the problem of age-related dysphagia (the difficulty swallowing that so often contributes to weight loss in the elderly). Vitamin supplementation has produced dramatic decreases in falls and hospitalizations while simultaneously increasing immune function. Even improved hydration has yielded decreases in delirium amongst nursing home residents.
Knowing if a loved one in a nursing home is eating well is not all that difficult. Simply look for signs of malnutrition, such as weight fluctuations, chronic lethargy, cognitive issues, changes in skin tone and/or an unexplained onset of depression.