You can’t turn on the television or pick up a magazine without hearing how a well-balanced diet is the key to good health and a better quality of life. But what might surprise you is how many people in this country suffer from malnutrition. And our seniors are among them.

Older adults are at high risk for malnutrition for many reasons. If you are a caregiver for a senior loved one, it’s important that you learn more about nutrition and how to recognize when an older adult isn’t getting the vital nutrients they need.

The Effects of Malnutrition

A poor diet can lead to a host of health complications for seniors, including a weaker immune system, slower healing capabilities, and muscle fatigue.  The Alliance to Advance Patient Nutrition reports that 1 in 3 patients admitted to the hospital suffer from malnutrition.

Individuals who don’t have access to good nutrition are three times more likely to develop an infection after surgery than their peers who eat a healthy diet. This puts them at a high risk for being readmitted to the hospital.

Recognize the signs of malnutrition

The most basic cases of malnutrition involve either too little food or a diet that is devoid of nutrients and full of empty calories. However, the Mayo Clinic reminds us that food isn’t the only culprit when it comes to malnutrition. A combination of physical, social, and psychological issues can lead to poor eating habits for seniors:

  • Physical

Older adults who have health problems may eat an improper diet. For example, individuals living with dementia can forget to eat or have trouble preparing proper meals for themselves. A senior with a health issue like diabetes or heart disease may be placed on restricted diets by their physician. While this is necessary, they might not             understand what foods they can safely eat so they end up not eating much as a result.

  • Social

In our society, food is often enjoyed in the company of friends and family. Single seniors might find that eating alone is not very enjoyable. Or they might lose interest in cooking for themselves, and eat convenience foods which are typically high in sodium and low in nutrition.

  • Psychology

There are many causes of depression in older adults. Some of the more common ones include grief, loneliness, and poor health. These factors are known to diminish a person’s appetite.

How to Help a Senior Loved One Prevent Malnutrition

If you know a senior loved one is at risk for malnutrition, here’s how you can help:

  • Sign up for a meal program. Meals on Wheels is a program that ensures older adults are receiving proper nutrition each day. Call your local agency on aging to learn more.
  • Register for food benefits. Seniors who need help paying the bills may be eligible to sign up for government food benefit programs. The AARP Benefits QuickLINK makes it easy for individuals to see for what benefits they are eligible.
  • Consider a move to senior living. If a senior loved one is struggling to maintain a healthy diet, another option is to consider a move to a senior living community. Three well-balanced meals and nutritious snacks are typically included with monthly rent.

A nutrient-rich diet is one of the basic building blocks for good health. Ensure that your senior loved one has proper access to healthy food so that they can enjoy their best quality of life.