As the Baby boomer generation reaches their golden years, the number of seniors requiring admission to Long Term Care Centers and Assisted Living facilities is increasing rapidly. Not only is this a financial drain on many families, but it is one of the hardest emotional situations they will ever face.
As a nurse with 11 years of experience specializing in senior care I have identified 4 areas in life where seniors commonly begin to decline, and often this decline contributes to the premature need for facility placement. If these areas are addressed early on, many of these seniors can remain in their own home far longer.
Over the next few weeks I will be addressing these 4 major areas and offering some practical suggestions and insights to help address and prevent these common causes of decline.
Week One: Nutrition
In the senior population one area of decline occurs when their nutritional requirements fail to be met. Poor nutrition not only has an effect on their physical health, but their mental health as well. Clients are admitted to Assisted Living facilities or Long Term Care centers with diminished mental capacity and once they receive proper nutrition often their mental status improves.
Seniors are also at increased risk for skin issues and decreased healing as a result of poor nutrition. These issues can manifest as small sores or deep wounds that can require hospitalization or long term placement. Throughout the years I’ve seen seniors admitted to Long Term Care facilities for skin issues that were preventable with proper nutrition. After admission to the facility and receiving adequate nutrition, these skin issues healed rather quickly.
Several elements contribute to poor nutritional intake in the senior population.
First, in many situations seniors are faced with preparing meals for one and eating alone. In our society where eating is often a social activity senior’s appetites will often decline when they eat alone day after day. As a result the senior begins to pick whatever is easy to fix and available. Many times these quick and easy foods offer poor nutritional content. When possible it is important to make time to share a meal with your senior family member to aid them in greater food intake.
Seniors are often on multiple medications and many of them, or combinations of them, will contribute to decreased appetite.
Another factor that contributes to poor nutrition in the senior population is diminished taste. Foods just don’t taste the same to them anymore. Again, this contributes to a lack of adequate intake. This is a difficult area to tackle. Try offering variety of foods different than the senior has traditionally preferred. Doing this might enable them to develop a new set of food preferences. Also work to identify which areas of taste they still possess (salty, sour, sweet) and present those types food as an option. Be aware though that salt may need to be limited in some health conditions such as High blood pressure and
Congestive Heart failure.
In many cases seniors develop a preference for sweets (this is especially true of dementia patients). There are many foods options that are nutritionally dense and also satisfy the sweet tooth.
For additional information on senior nutrition, the following links might prove to be helpful.