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.

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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 …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle


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