Malnutrition is a serious senior health issue in America, and is becoming an epidemic. A recent case was brought to light on social media. A North Carolina man of 81 called 911 and said: “What I need is someone to get to the grocery and bring me some food because I need to eat something.”
The man, who had been going through cancer treatment, could neither move nor stand. Overwhelmed with loneliness and hunger, he had no other option than to call 911.
This reflects what researchers call “hidden epidemic” which they say is happening in the United States every day: malnutrition in the aging population. The problem is especially severe for Latino elders (newamericamedia.org).
According to the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) more than a quarter of seniors are hungry or at nutritional risk. Also, researchers found that as many as two-thirds of older hospitalized patients are poorly nourished.
The biggest problem seniors have with malnutrition is that it can trigger or worsen chronic diseases.. Poor nutrition may increase the chances of infection, delay normal healing and result in longer hospital stays. Not only does poor nutrition affect the health and wellbeing of elders, but it can also create significant financial distress.
Medical bills for malnourished patients have tripled since 2012, according to the Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Moreover, the cost associated with malnutrition among older adults is estimated to be $51 billion a year (newamericamedia.org).
According to Sylvia Kingler, a nutritionist and consultant with Hispanic Food Communications, “people ages 50 or older should pay special attention to eating foods that contain calcium and protein. Protein provides amino acids for our muscles, which help us move. Folic acid is also very important.”
She recommends eating “fish minimum twice a week because it provides omega 3, its low in cholesterol and fat. For older adults it is also important to eat nuts because since they get full quicker a small amount provides more calories and nutrients.”
Klinger says seniors must have annual checkups including blood tests, which are the best indicator of one’s overall health. “They help us determine and see which nutrients they need,” she said.
Signs of Malnutrition
- Lack of energy
- Memory issues
- Regular Sickness
- Dry cracked skin
- Slow healing wounds
- Out of date food in the fridge
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Loose fitting clothes
- Muscle weakness
How to help yourself
- Buy and prepare foods packed with nutrients
- Restore life to bland food
- Make meals social events
- Ecourage snacking
- Get a check up from physician
- Visit a registered dietician
- Request a nutrition screening
- Ask for supplements
- Check the pantry
- Look in the fridge
- Drink more water
- Discourage Alcohol
- Ask questions
- Hire homecare help
- Meals on wheels
- Assisted living
Sources: newamericamedia.org, Gerontological Society of America, Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Hispanic Food and Communications