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Nutrition, Elderly, and Living Alone

Caregiver and client
By Homewatch CareGivers

Most older adults prefer living in their own home rather than moving in with a relative or relocating to a retirement community, assisted living facility, or memory care center. But, at some point, as adults grow older, they begin to have trouble with everyday activities such as shopping, cooking, housekeeping, and personal care. This article focuses on the risks of malnutrition while living alone.

In a 2012 Journal of Aging Research article, it states that the consequences of undernutrition in elderly people include functional decline or frailty; decreased quality of life; increased health care utilization and costs; higher rates of adverse complications from other health conditions, and increased mortality. The consequences of obesity include negative impact on physical functions and quality of life; decreased survival rates; metabolic syndromes; arthritis; pulmonary abnormalities; urinary incontinence; cataracts, and cancer. Thus, from a nutritional perspective, obesity as well as undernutrition are a concern among elderly people as they exacerbate age-related decline in physical functioning and can cause frailty. To read the full article click here.

Meal planning is one of the many services provided by privately-owned home care companies like Homewatch CareGivers (HWCG). They make sure good nutrition is part of the patient’s daily care. A HWCG client who lives in a retirement community has two adult sons who live out of state. Even though the retirement community provides three meals a day, the sons were not aware that their mother was being forgetful and not going to the dining room for her meals. She lost weight and her health began to decline. HWCG was engaged to keep the patient mentally active (i.e., word games, physical movement, etc.), perform light housekeeping, and reminders for mealtimes. Within a mere few weeks, the client showed signs of mental alertness, weight recovery and a renewed sense of health.

As adults age, they stop making good nutrition a priority. An elderly gentleman was known as saying, “since my wife died, I just open a can of soup for dinner.” Another female client said, “I don’t feel very comfortable driving to the grocery store anymore.”

There are several factors that contribute to the malnutrition in older adults:

No Appetite – Certain medications can cause older adults to lose their appetites if they have a medical condition or mental health problem. These same medications can reduce the sense of taste or smell making it an unpleasant experience to eat.

Trouble Swallowing or Chewing – Dental problems such as ill-fitted dentures can make it difficult for an elderly person to chew. Problems swallowing can also be a deterrent.

Lack of Physical Strength – Some elderly people are too frail to shop and cook or to do something as simple as opening a can of soup or putting a frozen dinner in the microwave if they are physically limited. The inability to move around the house is another reason.

Chronic Conditions – Certain health conditions may interfere with proper digestion. Other conditions such as mental illness, depression, dementia, or social isolation can take away the desire and ability to eat.

Financial Instability – Poverty can make it difficult for many older adults to have access to food or food with good nutrition.

Good nutrition during the golden years is not only a matter of being able to eat but a matter of getting enough fiber, vitamins, hydration, protein, and minerals that contribute to good health and adds quality of life.