How to help your elderly parent avoid malnutrition
As people age their appetite can start to wane. The cause can simply be less need for calories and therefore nothing to worry about. But malnutrition can become a problem, and its causes could lie in physical issues such as difficulty in chewing and swallowing, or more emotional and mental issues such as grief and loneliness.
If malnutrition is left undiagnosed and untreated it could increase your parent’s risk of hypothermia, post-operative complications (should your parent have surgery) and depression.
If you’re concerned your parent isn’t eating well we share how to spot the symptoms of malnutrition, what to do if your parent’s having difficulty eating and tips to ensure they’re enjoying their food and eating regularly.
What are the signs of malnutrition?
While some symptoms of malnutrition are easy to spot such as weight loss and decreased energy levels there are many others that tend to be masked by old age. Reduced mobility, difficulty retaining body heat, slower healing times and longer illness recovery times can all indicate your parent isn’t getting the sufficient nutrients they need in their diet.
How many calories should my parent be eating?
If your parent isn’t getting out as much as they used to it’s likely their appetite will lessen as they use less energy.
The NHS recommends that older women eat no less than 1200 and no more than 2000 calories a day and older men eat no less than 1700 and no more than 2500 calories. The amount of calories your parent’s body needs will depend on their Body Mass Index (BMI) so it’s best to work this out before coming up with a meal plan for your parent.
What do I do if my parent’s malnourished?
First, talk to your parent. If you’re still worried, ask if they will see their GP to assess their health as well as provide them with dietary advice or refer them to a nutritionist.
What do I do if my parent has a swallowing problem?
Issues swallowing can cause discomfort as well as embarrassment for a parent who has previously enjoyed mealtimes. They may begin to insist on dining alone, decline dinner invites or lose weight because their swallowing difficulty has caused an aversion to eating.
Cooking your parent softer foods, smaller portions or ordering meals specifically designed for those with swallowing issues can help to combat adverse swallowing symptoms while ensuring your parent’s getting enough to eat. Speech therapy could also help your parent to regain some control of their swallowing. You can find advice on the spotting the signs, identifying the cause and helping your parent cope here.
5 tips to ensure your parent’s eating well
Don’t make a meal out of it. If the thought of cooking leaves your parent cold perhaps arranging meal delivery, stocking up their freezer with home-cooked dishes, popping round to cook for them or helping them join a lunch club could help to keep them eating regularly.
Choose the favourites. It’s all well and good trying to get your elderly parent to eat healthily but if they’ve been used to rich and indulgent meals it could be hard to break those habits. Eating should be as much about enjoyment as keeping an eye on calorie intake so opting to cook them their favourite meals could be a good compromise – you can vet the ingredients you put in and it’ll keep them happy.
Take tea for two. If your parent has lost their partner or close friend they may find that mealtimes are now a lonely affair. Ensuring your parent doesn’t begin to associate food with feelings of isolation by popping round for a meal or taking them out for dinner can help to ward off anxiety and promote a regular eating routine.
The good stuff. If your parent’s love for cake and crisps outweighs their love for fruit and vegetables it could be causing a dietary imbalance which can lead to malnutrition. Encouraging your parent to drink some fruit juice or make a smoothie, eat a small portion of vegetables with their dinner or just include more nutritious ingredients in their cooking can all help to keep them living healthily for longer.
Snack time. Larger meals for those who lack the appetite can be daunting and off-putting. Offering your parent smaller meals throughout the course of day or buying them healthy snacks like fruit salad boxes or raw veg and dip packs can encourage your parent to graze more and fill up on lots of little portions.
If you’d like more information on how to help your parent eat healthily and avoid malnutrition Nutritionist Resource has an advice section specifically for older adults.
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