Nutrition is a key component in a person’s overall health and becomes even more critical with age. Often, family members note difficulty eating and loss of appetite in their elderly loved ones. “It is particularly difficult to manage seniors’ nutrition. As people age, the barriers to optimal nutrition increase,” said Amy Julicher, RDN, Elderwood’s Director of Nutritional Services. “Our Registered Dietician Nutritionists (RDNs) use their expertise to balance these issues and craft nutrition plans that heal residents from the inside out,” added Julicher.
Be on the lookout for these 3 nutrition complications that often arise in seniors.
1. Problems Chewing or Swallowing Food
It is common in the aging process to develop difficulty with chewing and swallowing. This can result from natural wear and tear on the esophagus, muscle weakness, and other issues commonly associated with aging. It is important to monitor seniors’ ability to chew and swallow and report any concerns to a doctor or their care management team. At Elderwood, our team of experienced RDNs are monitoring seniors for signs of these complications regularly.
Lindsay Ormsby, RDN, is a member of the nutrition team at Elderwood at Williamsville. She spends a portion of her day making rounds during mealtime to monitor how residents are eating. Elderwood RDNs work closely with occupational and speech therapists to address the needs of residents. “When I go on rounds, I am monitoring residents for any signs of difficulty chewing or swallowing. If there are issues present, I report them to the therapy team. After evaluation, I will discuss the outcome with the therapy team and come up with a plan to help the resident,” said Ormsby.
Solutions to problems chewing or swallowing might include adjusting diet textures, increasing the level of feeding assistance, or accommodating any adaptive equipment required during mealtime. “It is vital that we address these issues as soon as they are detected so we can make the appropriate changes. If these issues go undetected, further complications can arise such as weight loss, nutritional gaps, and other imbalances,” said Ormsby.
2. Weight Changes
Whether it be weight loss or weight gain, regularly monitoring weight changes in seniors can help identify any underlying nutrition issues that are present. As a normal part of the aging process, levels of water, fat, and muscle change. However, sudden changes in weight can be a sign of a number of serious health challenges.
Our nursing and RDN teams work to closely monitor the weight of each one of our residents and address any underlying concerns. In addition to monitoring weight, lab tests and blood work are regularly checked for nutritional deficiencies. Regularly checking on seniors’ weights and tests allow our team to respond quickly to any concerns. In addition, our RDNs also conduct regular nutritional physical assessments to address any weight changes. If there are nutritional gaps, additional snacks or supplements are worked into your loved one’s care plan.
3. Change in Appetite
Loss of appetite is a huge concern when it comes to meeting the nutritional requirements for seniors. “It is very common to see a loss in appetite in the elderly. This can be a result of lessened physical activity, depression, or other issues. It is important to bring these concerns to the attention of your loved one’s care team as soon as they are noticed,” said Julicher.
RDNs at Elderwood work to be an advocate on behalf of each resident for their individual preferences to help meet their nutritional needs. It is not uncommon to see our RDNs attending resident council meetings to hear their requests for upcoming meals. Hand-in-hand with the dining team, RDNs work to create meal plans that will help combat loss in appetite.
“Our RDNs are a critical asset to the health of our patients, and we can’t thank them enough for the hard work they put in each day. If you have concerns about the nutritional health of your loved ones, you should speak to their doctors immediately. The food we eat plays a large role in our overall health. When leveraged properly, food can be used not only to manage health but also prevent disease,” said Julicher.
Whether your loved one lives on their own or in a senior care setting, it is important to pay attention to proper nutrition. Be sure to talk to their doctor or care team if you notice signs of nutritional deficiency. Click here to learn more about the benefits of skilled nursing communities and find out if it’s the right fit for your loved one.