There are a lot of reasons why many seniors don’t get the vitamins, minerals, and proteins their bodies need every single day. These same individuals can end up at the emergency room, after a fall or a fainting spell, and one of the first things that are often noted about them is that they are malnourished or at risk of being malnourished. 

“…older adult malnutrition is becoming a crisis in America. Estimates are that the cost of disease-associated malnutrition in older adults is $51.3 billion per year, and up to one out of every two older adults are at risk of becoming malnourished.” (Source)

For seniors with no cognitive impairments (ie. no dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, for example) to be diagnosed as being malnourished might seem odd but there are host of reasons why they might not be eating properly.

Reasons why some seniors don’t eat properly

While some seniors simply lack interest in the preparation and eating of meals, having done it all their lives, there are a wide variety of other reasons why seniors don’t get the nutrition they need.

  • Dental issues — from imperfectly fitting dentures to missing teeth, as well as dental pain while chewing, seniors may end up not eating sufficient quantities of food in a good variety because of dental issues.
  • Mental health issues — depression, loneliness, and other mental health issues do often create a reduction in appetite. 
  • Mobility issues — getting groceries and bringing them home is a major undertaking when a person has mobility issues. If they live in a location that isn’t particularly close to stores, or where weather like snow and ice compound the problem, it’s even more difficult.
  • Medication — Some medications suppress appetite and a change in medications can also have the same effect.
  • Illness-related issues — some illnesses, chronic or otherwise, will leave people with less appetite.
  • Age-related changes — we all lose a tremendous number of taste buds as we age. Disinterest in eating a variety of foods can stem from the meals being basically unappealing in flavor.
  • Sedentary lifestyle — with less movement and activity comes decreased appetite. The irony is that the lack of energy is only worsened by a poor appetite, and the risk of injury is increased if the body’s muscles don’t get the nutrients they need to function properly.

3 ways to help seniors maintain better eating habits

In order to maintain reasonable habits, the average senior probably could use a little help. Whether that help comes from family or from who is hired as homecare assistant or in-home caregiver, a little help can go a long way! It’s not so much a case of seniors needing full time help: they just need someone to get them through the parts that are more difficult and for which a little prompting might help.

After eliminating physical problems like dental issues or difficulty swallowing, the next steps can go a long way to ensuring that seniors living independently are able to remain that way AND get the nutrition they need.

  1. Create a meal plan, a month ahead of time. In addition to being able to leverage the power of buying in a smart way, by using up ingredients in multiple dishes, meal planning takes away the issue of not feeling inspired to cook and therefore deciding not to do it at all. If you know what’s on the plan and you are prepared with the right ingredients, you can get it done without a second thought.
  1. Assistance with shopping. Meal plan in hand, it’s easy to create shopping lists that include what will be needed for a week or even two. Providing some assistance in getting to the store, purchasing the items and bringing them home and unloading them, can make a big difference to a senior with mobility issues. Grocery delivery is another option to consider.
  1. Assistance with meal preparation. Making food should be a communal thing: it’s far more pleasant that way. But for many seniors who live alone or don’t have a huge social network, it’s not always possible. A little help with food preparation can return the act of cooking to a social one. Batch cooking soups and stews and putting them in the freezer in single size portions is a great way to get ahead of the curve if daily / weekly assistance isn’t possible.

In the next post, we’ll outline some easy recipes and tips to help seniors get the nutrition they need to remain vibrant and active. Stay tuned!