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5 Risk Factors for Malnutrition in Seniors

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While malnutrition often results from a person not eating enough, it can also mean the foods the person does eat aren’t effectively utilized or absorbed to ensure optimal health. It’s important that seniors maintain optimal nutrition to lower the risk of certain health conditions. While common acute illnesses, such as gastrointestinal infections and fever, can lead to diminished oral intake, there are other less obvious reasons for malnutrition. Here are some common risk factors for malnutrition in older adults and what you can do about them.

1. Medication Side Effects

Some medications can interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients, raising the risk of malnutrition. For example, many aging adults take a daily aspirin tablet to reduce the risk of heart attack, blood clots, and stroke. While effective in inhibiting platelet aggregation, aspirin can also inhibit the absorption of iron and vitamin C. Other medications many seniors take include diuretics, or “water pills.” These medications cause frequent urination, which may deplete the body of potassium. Also, certain medications can cause stomach upset, which may lead to a diminished appetite, also a potential factor in malnutrition. If your senior loved one takes diuretics or aspirin, make an appointment with his or her physician to determine if malnutrition is present and implement an appropriate treatment plan.

2. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease may develop in older people, and it can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. The subsequent gluten sensitivity related to celiac disease can also cause loss of appetite, which may result in malnutrition. Also, celiac disease may prevent the absorption of vitamins and minerals—such as iron, B vitamins, and folic acid—from the foods your loved one eats, which can also lead to malnutrition and severe nutrient deficiencies. If your loved one has symptoms of celiac disease, have his or her physician order diagnostic testing and recommend effective treatment options. Dietary changes may be recommended as well as supplementing the diet with vitamin and mineral tablets.

3. Cognitive Deficits

If your loved one has dementia or another condition that causes cognitive deficits, he or she may forget to eat. While missing a meal or two may not result in malnutrition, consistently missing meals or eating too little can cause weight loss and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. At the first sign of confusion, anxiety, aggressive behavior, forgetfulness, or weight loss, make an appointment with your loved one’s healthcare provider for a complete medical and psychological examination. 

A professional caregiver with training in methods that boost both physical and mental health can be a wonderful source of support for seniors with cognitive and nutritional issues. Not every senior has the same care needs, which means they don’t all need the same type of home care. Fort Myers families can rely on Home Care Assistance to provide individualized care plans to meet your elderly loved one’s unique care needs. Our holistic Balanced Care Method was designed to help seniors focus on healthy lifestyle habits such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining strong social ties, and our Cognitive Therapeutics Method offers mentally stimulating activities that can stave off cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia.

4. Internal Bleeding

If your parent experiences internal bleeding as a result of anticoagulant or aspirin use or has a serious medical condition, he or she may develop severe iron-deficiency anemia. This type of malnutrition can be reversed by taking liquid iron supplements, discontinuing the offending medication, and stopping the internal bleeding. It’s important to note that if a complete blood count reveals severe iron-deficiency anemia or if the hemoglobin and hematocrit are exceedingly low, it may take multiple diagnostic tests to determine where the internal bleeding is coming from. 

For seniors with severe health conditions such as internal bleeding, having a caregiver constantly nearby can provide a wonderful sense of comfort and support. Some seniors only require help with a few daily tasks so they can maintain their independence. However, those living with serious illnesses may need more extensive assistance. Luckily, there is professional live-in care Fort Myers, FL, seniors can rely on. Home can be a safer and more comfortable place for your loved one to live with the help of an expertly trained and dedicated live-in caregiver.

5. Poor Food Choices

As people age, the appetite often diminishes. Poor nutritional intake is one of the most common reasons for malnutrition in older adults. If your loved one is losing weight or has no appetite, let his or her physician know. The doctor may recommend a prescription medication to increase the appetite, suggest a nutrient-dense diet, or prescribe nutrient-enriched protein shakes to reduce the risk of severe malnutrition and deficiencies.

If you think your loved one is at risk of malnutrition, hiring a highly trained professional caregiver can help you gain peace of mind. In Fort Myers, senior care agencies can be a great boon to seniors. With the help of the caregivers at Home Care Assistance, your aging loved one can lead a happier and healthier life. We offer a revolutionary program called the Balanced Care Method, which encourages seniors to eat nutritious foods, exercise and socialize regularly, and focus on other lifestyle factors that increase life expectancy. If your loved one needs professional care, Home Care Assistance is here to help. Call one of our Care Managers today at 239.449.4701.