Identifying and Preventing Malnutrition in Seniors - How To Maintain Senior Health

Eating healthy food is important at any age because it is the fuel our body uses to maintain health and function. As seniors age, their nutritional needs may change, but the importance of eating healthy does not.

Meeting their nutritional needs helps seniors maintain their quality of life. Unfortunately, aging seniors may lose their appetite, or develop health challenges that make it difficult for them to cook their own healthy meals. In these cases it is important to help your senior loved one with meal planning, cooking, and enjoying their meals.

Warning signs that could mean your loved one could potentially be malnourished:

  • Their fridge is usually empty when you visit.

  • They’re losing weight.

  • They’re taking medications that can cause a loss of appetite.

There are many reasons why your senior loved one may be struggling to eat nutritious meals each day. They may have difficulty grocery shopping on a regular basis, they may be afraid to use their kitchen, or they may feel lonely during meal times.

Difficulty Grocery Shopping

Seniors may struggle with grocery shopping for any number of the following reasons:

  • They have lost their driver's license and no longer have a means of transportation

  • Their mobility is limited and they struggle to push a heavy shopping cart. Baskets in the cart can also be difficult for seniors to place and retrieve their items.

  • Seniors may struggle to walk through large grocery stores to find all their items. If they have questions for staff, they have to walk through the entire store in search of someone.

  • Limited mobility and strength can make it difficult for seniors to reach items on higher shelves or deep into frozen food cases.

  • At the end of a grocery shopping trip, bags can be very heavy. Seniors may  struggle to carry their heavy bags to their car and into their home.

How can you help your senior loved on with their grocery shopping?

Some seniors enjoy grocery shopping because it is a way to interact with other people. Others will be okay to have someone do their shopping for them. It’s important that you ask your senior loved one what they would prefer.

Talk through what they enjoy eating and buying. What stores do they like to shop at? What budget are they working with?

If your senior loved one wants help grocery shopping, make sure they’re in charge at the store and you are only there to help. Even when you’re checking out, allow your senior loved one to speak with the cashier and pay for their groceries. You can be helpful with bagging and carrying the groceries.

When you get the groceries home, you can help put them away, but always make sure you put things away in the place that your senior loved one prefers.

The Kitchen Becomes Dangerous

The kitchen is the heart of most homes and cooking is an essential part of our lives.

Unfortunately, kitchens can become dangerous for seniors to use. Memory issues can cause a senior to walk away from food cooking on the stove, turning on the tap and walking away, or leaving the oven on. This can potentially be catastrophic.  

Kitchens are not only problematic for seniors with memory impairment.Additional issues that make the kitchen potentially dangerous for seniors include:

  • Heavy pots that seniors have trouble lifting. This makes transferring pots from the stove to sink extremely challenging and can lead to spills that cause fires or fall hazards.

  • Clothing with long sleeves, like robes, can put a senior at risk for catching their clothes on fire or the fabric could get caught on a pot handle and cause hot food to spill.

How can you make the kitchen a safer place for your senior loved one?

  • Pots with two handles can make it easier for a senior to transfer them from sink to stove and back.

  • Alarms and lights that alert seniors to the stove and oven being on will help seniors with memory issues to turn off the stove before leaving the room.

  • Encourage your senior loved one to never leave anything on the stove. This includes oven mitts, dish towels, wooden utensils, paper items, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, cans of cooking spray, etc. These items can catch fire easily. They should be organized for easy use, but never left on the stove.

  • Test smoke detectors to make sure they’re working properly.

  • Make sure there is a fire extinguisher within easy access to the kitchen, and a safe distance from the stove. Also make sure that your senior loved one knows how to use the fire extinguisher in case of emergency.

Eating Together is More Enjoyable

Enjoying a meal with others is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Many seniors become isolated in their homes, and eating meals alone increases their feelings of loneliness.

It is important to know the difference between being alone and loneliness. Many seniors can spend time on their own and enjoy their day, however, others may feel sad and empty without a certain level of connection.

Seniors may become isolated in their home if they lose their spouse, their children move away, they experience mobility issues, they have an illness, or they have difficulty communicating due to a hearing challenge or language barrier.

How can your loved one enjoy more meals with companionship?

If family members are able to join your senior loved one during mealtimes, that is a fun way to enjoy their company and make sure they’re eating enough nutritious food to keep them healthy.

Your family can also hire caregivers who specialize in meal preparation and companionship so that your senior loved one is always looked after. With Mavencare, you are always kept up-to-date and our caregivers can record important health information such as fluid intake, what they ate, and how much they ate.

Senior centres often offer at least one meal along with activities. If your senior loved one doesn’t have a means of transportation, our caregivers can offer transportation as a supplementary service to personal care.

If you are concerned about your senior loved one’s nutrition, consult their doctor for tests that can be done to identify chronic malnutrition or other nutrition-related health concerns.