A couple of weeks ago following an event I attended, I wrote about the devastating effects of malnutrition in the elderly, and how it can have far-reaching – and unnecessary – consequences.
Today I want to talk about the ways in which we can limit the problem, if not eradicate it altogether.
Naturally, prevention is better than cure in all things, so the best way to help keep your loved ones from becoming ill is to ensure they stay healthy in the first place. Alas, if we’re being realistic, age does catch up with us all in the end; therefore it’s vital that we’re watching for indications all may not be well. Should you notice any of the following, immediate intervention is required – so vigilance is key.
These are the signs of malnourishment to be looking out for:
- Loose clothing or jewellery;
- Thinner limbs;
- Not finishing meals;
- Feeling full quickly;
- Low energy levels.
A great way to remember the physical cues to be keeping an eye is with the handy acronym ‘I CARE’:
I will check:
How Nutrition Affects the Body
We all know we should be eating right 80% of the time, or whatever the current guidelines stipulate. And the majority of us have to execute a heroic amount of self-discipline to realise that…or not. But as youngsters we’ve really no comprehension of the enormity attached to achieving those dietary recommendations as we age.
Being active is how we build muscle, which is vital to our general health; but as we age we naturally lose some of that vitality. Therefore, we must shift our focus to our diets to ensure we are maintaining the muscle we do have.
One of the reasons malnutrition in the elderly is so harmful is that it can be the difference between fighting disease and becoming increasingly unwell. Essentially, those with lower muscle mass take longer to recover from illness, and poor nutrition accelerates muscle loss. Critically though, being confined to bed is one of the worst possible scenarios in terms of muscle wastage: a ten day period of bedrest for an older patient can result in the loss of 1 kilogram of muscle loss in the lower limbs alone.
In other words, it’s a vicious cycle.
So how can we feed that muscle to ensure it remains as healthy as possible for as long as possible? Ensuring a healthy balance of vitamins and minerals and sufficient calories is crucial; notably there are three fundamental elements that must be included in the diets of our elders:
- Vitamin D;
- HMB (created by the body as it breaks down protein).
As I mentioned last week, being educated is only part of the battle, because actually putting this into practice can be really tough for those at risk. (Of course, in turn that’s hard on you, because it’s imperative you find a way to help – and I’ll be giving advice on how to do just that a bit later.)
So why, precisely, is it so much harder for our grandparents?
- It will obviously become more difficult to shop and cook;
- Poor dentition can create physical difficulties;
- Loneliness may lead to a lack of interest in food, which can also contribute to…
- Poor appetite.
Elderly at Increased Risk of Malnutrition
But things get even more dire… Because not only is it harder to eat the right foods and more important to achieve nutritional targets – as our bodies age they also become less efficient at absorbing the vitamins and minerals we do consume. Can it get any worse?!
Thankfully, no. (There had to be some good news eventually, right?) I’m now going to talk about the ways to address these potential issues and hopefully assist you in helping your elder relatives.
Oral Nutritional Supplements
I must confess to being a major cynic of most supplements. In general, I believe them to be a lazy option/peddled via scaremongering to those who are desperate/impressionable. I don’t like any of those notions, and I’m a massive, stubborn pedant about research and evidence, and sure… But was it double-blind?
So when we were learning about a product (essentially a protein drink with added nutrients) which is available to assist older generations in reaching their nutritional goals, I was initially sceptical…
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But the more we were told, the more I realised I had no argument against the results from their very thorough (double-blind) study. These supplements work. And they’re available on prescription (unlike the similar product my husband uses and swears by), which means they’re tested and regulated; they’re safe. And they’re reliable.
The study looked at 652 malnourished hospital patients aged 65 and over. They each received standard medical care plus two servings daily of ONS – or a placebo drink. The supplement was given within 72 hours of admission, and continued for 90 days following discharge.
The results were quite staggering and speak for themselves:
At 90 days, the death rate was 50% lower in those patients who’d received ONS.
They also had:
- Increased body weight;
- Reduced malnutrition;
- Increased levels of vitamin D.
That’s rather too impressive to ignore. So if you have concerns over the welfare of somebody you love, bear in mind that they have nutritional rights and you should be able to access these supplements for them.
If this is a route you’d like to pursue, speak to their GP and request a nutritional assessment. If your relative is identified as being malnourished, there are various treatment options available, including ONS. A tailored care plan should be devised to improve their nutritional status, and they should be monitored and reviewed regularly.
You can also offer support in simpler ways…
Tips to Help Your Loved Ones Stay Healthy
The take home message I took from this fascinating event was that we can intervene and help our loved ones before it’s too late:
Frailty is not inevitable.
Here are a few strategies you can employ:
- Encourage food little and often (large plates of food may be overwhelming);
- Consider presentation (chop large or unmanageable food into smaller pieces);
- Offer high protein, easy to eat foods and snacks;
- Milky drinks are a fantastic to sneak additional calories and protein into diet;
- Trial prescribed supplements.
And finally: to make this theory an easy transition when the time comes for you too – get into good habits while you’re young!
For tips on how to do this, Abbott have lots of information available to hep you.
This post is sponsored by Abbott.