skip to main content

Malnutrition can lead to a host of physical and emotional problems, from immune system and muscle weakness to depression. Older adults with poor nutrition are more likely to be admitted to hospitals or long-term care facilities if they have experienced illness, dementia or weight loss. Familiarizing yourself with malnutrition signs and solutions can help promote your loved one’s health and longevity.

What to look for:

A first step to recognizing malnutrition is to learn your loved one’s eating habits. Spend mealtimes with him, including everyday meals, not just holidays and special occasions. If she lives alone, talk to the person who buys her groceries.

Keep in mind that malnutrition can be caused by social and psychological factors as well as physical.

Does your loved one have little social contact? She may not enjoy cooking or eating meals.

Is he living on a limited income? He may have trouble affording groceries, especially fresh, healthy foods.

Is she depressed? Depression can cause loss of appetite.

Does he use alcohol to cope? It can become a substitute for food and prevent nutrient absorption.

Has your loved one recently been ill, leading to loss of appetite?

Does she have dental problems or trouble eating?

Does he take medications? Some can affect appetite, digestion and how nutrients are absorbed.

Is she on dietary restrictions? Food may seem tasteless and unappealing.

Malnutrition will eventually manifest itself in physical signs. Ask yourself the following:

Have you noticed your loved one’s clothes fitting more loosely or other signs of weight loss?

Is she experiencing dental problems? Oral health problems may be caused by malnutrition.

Does he bruise easily? Anemia is a symptom of malnutrition.

Do wounds take longer than normal to heal?

Where to start:

Early identification and treatment of nutrition problems can help your loved one get back on track.

Buy fresh, whole foods whenever possible. Include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and healthy oils found in fish and nuts. Frozen foods are an acceptable alternative to fresh produce.

For those who find grocery shopping or cooking difficult, consider a service like Mom’s Meals, which delivers nutritionally balanced, freshly prepared meals to customers’ homes. Designed to meet the needs of an aging population, each meal contains fresh foods, is microwaveable and will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks. Mom’s Meals menus include specialty choices like low-sodium, low-fat, gluten-free and more.

Add flavor to foods using herbs, spices, salt-free blends and lemon juice.

Encourage snacking. Older adults may get full quickly at mealtimes, but snacking between meals on fruit, cheese or milk can provide nutrients and calories.

Make meals more social. Eat together whenever possible to boost spirits, and encourage your loved one to join programs or groups where he might eat with other seniors.

Help with grocery savings. Look for sales, shop together and split bulk foods.

Encourage light physical activity to stimulate appetite.

Give her the tools she needs for proper oral and dental care.

Remember, you are not alone. A dietitian can provide a nutrition plan and recipes. Community services, like Meals on Wheels or in-home help, are available in most areas. And you can talk to your loved one’s doctor about medications, health problems or weight loss, and nutrition supplementation.

(This article by Dianna Malkowski, Physician Assistant & Registered Dietitian, originally appeared on the CareGiver Partnership blog.)

About R.O.S Therapy Systems: R.O.S. Therapy Systems began as a backyard project in 2010. Scott Silknitter was searching for tools to help his mother care for his father, Roger Owen Silknitter, during a 25-year fight with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. That project became a personal mission to help all family caregivers. From family caregiver training and activity books to mobile apps to activity systems, R.O.S. has grown to become a single-source provider of informational “how to’s” and a growing provider of adaptive tools for the millions of husbands, wives, children, and family members that become caregivers.

Common sense advice and instruction based on proven principles of communication, engagement, and daily living are the heart of everything R.O.S. offers for family caregivers. Improving quality of life for caregivers is our mission, and designing everything for a family caregiver struggling with a loved one is the starting point. Whether it is dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s, ALS, stroke, visual impairment, developmental disabilities, or any other issue that forces someone to care for a loved one, R.O.S. and its Caregiving 101 program are here to help.