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Senior Living: Staying well-nourished throughout life

By Cynthia Mazon, RD, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center

Contributing writer

Cynthia Mazon, RD. (Courtesy of MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center)

According to the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, also known as ASPEN, cases of malnutrition are highest among adults 65 years of age and older.

Malnutrition occurs when your body is deprived of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients needed to maintain healthy tissues and organ function. As you get older, it’s especially important that you learn how to stay properly nourished to maintain your ability to preserve muscle, bone density and cognitive function, and improve wound healing.

How malnutrition develops

As you age, you may begin to experience health or lifestyle changes that can increase your risk of becoming malnourished. These include: 

  • Living with a chronic health condition, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, which are more common with age. These conditions require you to follow a specific diet and avoid certain foods, making it easier to become malnourished.
  • Changes in your teeth. Lack of natural teeth or poorly fitting dentures can limit your food choices and affect your ability to chew solid foods that are essential to a healthy diet.
  • Changes in your metabolism and body’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to a higher risk of nutrient deficiency.
  • Loss of muscle mass, which can lead to mobility issues and reduce your ability to shop for your own groceries and prepare healthy meals. 
  • Psychological and cognitive factors, such as dementia or depression, can make everyday chores difficult to do on your own. 
  • Economic and social issues, such as changes in income, lack of access to transportation or living alone can all negatively affect your ability to eat healthy meals.  
  • Consuming medications, including proton-pump inhibitors, diuretics and corticosteroids, as well as drugs for diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, can affect your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

As some of these changes naturally occur with age, it’s especially important that you are always aware of and lookout for signs of malnutrition. Symptoms include: 

  • Loss of appetite; 
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing when eating;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Feeling tired or weak;
  • Muscle weakness;
  • Loss of fat; and
  • Bruised, dry or cracked skin.

It’s important to monitor these symptoms and manage your specific risk factors to prevent malnutrition. You should seek immediate medical care if you begin to experience sudden changes to your weight, appetite or ability to eat.  

Consuming the right vitamins and nutrients

Although becoming malnourished can negatively affect your health, prevention is possible by ensuring that you consume your daily recommended vitamin intake and eat healthy, nutritious foods. 

One of the most important vitamins that you need later in life is B12, which helps your body make red blood cells and maintain function of nerve cells. As you age, your risk of having a deficiency increases due to the higher risk of developing atrophic gastritis, a condition that inhibits the absorption of vitamin B12. 

Other important vitamins and minerals to try and include in your diet:

  • Vitamin B6: helps support normal brain development and keeps the nervous and immune systems healthy. It can be found in whole grains, salmon, eggs, carrots, spinach and avocado.
  • Vitamin D: found in food such as salmon and mackerel, and helps your body maintain healthy bones and teeth. Spending a few minutes under the sun’s ultraviolet rays also can help your skin produce vitamin D. 
  • Vitamin A: supports healthy vision and immunity. It is found in mackerel, salmon, trout, cheese and eggs.
  • Fiber: supports your bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels and helps control blood sugars. It is found in whole grains, legumes, almonds, green peas, chia seeds and avocado.
  • Calcium: helps keep bones and teeth strong. It is commonly known to be in milk, cheese and yogurt, but can also be found in chia seeds, salmon and legumes.
  • Protein: helps your body build and repair tissue. It is found in oily fish, legumes, dairy and fortified foods.

When taking supplements, it’s also important follow the directions on the label. Talk to your doctor or caregiver for help with consuming the appropriate amount. 

Nourishment Support

Staying healthy as you age can be challenging to do alone. It’s helpful to have loved ones support your nutrition needs by taking you grocery shopping, helping you prepare healthy meals and assisting with eating, if necessary. Food bank programs, such as Meals on Wheels America, deliver nutritious and healthy meals specifically to those 60 and up. If economic hardships prevent you from eating well, you also can apply for various programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, which provides funding to help you pay for your groceries. 

Managing your nutritional needs and ensuring that you’re consuming the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals will help you live a long and healthy life.

If you need help managing a healthy diet and preventing malnutrition, find a primary care doctor who can help by contacting MemorialCare: 800-MEMORIAL OR

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Source: Orange County Register

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