Warning signs could indicate poor nutrition

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There are plenty of things to worry when you’re caring for a senior parent or loved one:

“What if mom falls and I’m not there to help her?”
“What if dad is the target of a scam artist?”
“How will I care for mom if her health gets worse?”

While all of these scenarios are important to consider, sometimes the tasks that seem simple or mundane can also pose a threat to your loved one’s physical and mental well-being.

Original research conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network indicates that two of five elderly who live alone (44 percent) have at least four warning signs of poor nutritional health**. According to the research, the most common of these warning signs and their incidence rates are:

  • Eating alone most of the time (76 percent)
  • Taking three or more different medications a day (71 percent)
  • Eating few fruits, vegetables or milk products (46 percent)
  • Having an illness/condition that prompted a change in diet (31 percent)
  • Not always being physically able to shop, cook or feed themselves (25 percent)

Home Instead Senior Care has compiled a list of warning signs that will help you identify if your senior loved one could be suffering from poor nutritional health, as well as solutions to the most common mealtime issues:

  1. The loneliness. Who wants to eat alone? Not only are seniors at more risk of poor nutrition, loneliness can lead to depression, which could make problems worse. More than three-fourths (76 percent) of seniors who live alone eat alone most of the time, according to Home Instead Senior Care network research. Suggestion: Try to make sure your older loved one has companionship at home or in a congregate meal site.
  2. The multiple meds. Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of seniors take three or more different medications a day, according to this research. Suggestion: Talk to your senior’s health care team about how medications might be impacting your older adult’s appetite and discuss with them what to do about it.
  3. The lack of healthy staples. For a number of reasons, important staples for a good diet are not always found in a senior’s kitchen. Nearly half (46 percent) of seniors who live alone consume few fruits, vegetables or milk products, this research revealed. Suggestion: In season, why not find an affordable, local farmer’s market? Talk with your older loved one about their favorite recipes – or yours – that incorporate healthy products.
  4. The illness. Many older adults are struggling with health conditions. Some don’t feel like eating as a result. Others – 31 percent in the Home Instead Senior Care research – say that an illness or condition has forced them to change the food they eat. Suggestion: Discovering favorite recipes from the recipe box and making mealtime a social event may help.
  5. The physical problems. 25 percent of seniors who live alone encounter issues getting to a grocery store, causing more stress on shopping or cooking for themselves. Suggestion: Your local Area Agency on Aging office has staff to help and your local Home Instead Senior Care office can arrange for a CAREGiver. Try, also, to tap into neighbors and compassionate friends. If you know of older adults who live alone, cook extra at mealtimes and take it to them.
  6. That smelly fridge. Check out expiration dates of food in the refrigerator when you’re visiting a loved one. Have you noticed an increase in spoiled food? Remember to check the freezer for outdated frozen items or foods that have not been packaged appropriately. Suggestion: Help a senior by packaging food in small portions and labeling in big letters with the date.
  7. The suspicious grocery list. If you go to the store for Mom, and the list is mostly sweets, then she may be headed in the wrong direction with her diet. Suggestion: Help her put together a grocery list, reminding her of all the wonderful foods she used to cook for you. Make it a happy time of memories. Why not buy the ingredients and make that recipe together?
  8. Those important details. When you’re visiting a senior, check out things like skin tone – it should be healthy looking and well-hydrated – as well as any weight fluctuations. A loss or gain of 10 pounds in six months could be a sign of trouble. Suggestion: A visit to the doctor can help ensure your senior is healthy.
  9. The empty cupboard. An emergency could trap a loved one home for days. Suggestion: Prepare by stocking back-up food, water and high-nutrition products such as Ensure® in case a trip to the store isn’t possible.
  10. The support. Isolation is one of the biggest threats to an older adult. Encourage your loved one to invite friends to dinner. If you can’t be there, develop a schedule of friends and neighbors who can stop by for lunch or dinner. Or call to enlist the services of a professional CAREGiver.


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