By Kate Kane, RDN, CDN
Incorporating good nutrition into one’s daily routine plays an important role in the healthy aging process. Well-balanced nutrition can positively impact healing outcomes, prevent infections, and help maintain physical strength and independence. When an older adult is battling chronic health conditions, they are at an even greater risk for malnutrition, which can lead to an increase in medical complications and may heighten the possibility of hospital re-admissions down the road.
So what does malnutrition look like? Oftentimes it’s not as obvious to detect as you might think. Since malnutrition is simply being in a state of improper nutrition, which may be caused by limited access to healthful foods or the inability to properly absorb nutrients from one’s diet, many malnourished people do not appear thin or underweight. This is why it is important to pay attention to your loved ones’ eating habits and to be aware of any changes in medications that may affect appetite and nutrient absorption.
Some symptoms that may indicate malnutrition can often appear as usual signs of aging. These symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Eating only small amounts of meals
- Unplanned weight loss
- Swelling or the accumulation of fluid
Simple ways to combat malnutrition include:
- Eating nutrient dense foods such as ripe fruits and vegetables.
- Consuming quality protein sources like peanut butter and whole grain toast and crackers, including an extra egg white in omelets or scrambled eggs, adding quinoa to salads and soups, using whole milk instead of 1%.
- Spicing up bland meals for those on dietary restrictions with the use of healthful herbs and seasonings.
- Consuming protein rich snacks throughout the day like nuts, yogurt, or cheese varieties. Using a creamy peanut butter or softer nuts like walnuts may help eliminate chewing issues.
- Buying dry and canned goods in bulk to save money and the need for trips to the grocery store.
- Making use of community programs that support food insecure individuals, such as Meals on Wheels and grocery store delivery services.
If you suspect you or your loved one is at risk for or showing signs of malnutrition reach out to your medical provider and request a nutrition screening at your next appointment, or request a referral to a registered dietitian.