When it comes to proper nutrition for older people, it’s important that their loved ones be attuned to their diet and, if concerns about their nutrition arise, be proactive in addressing them. Observe their eating habits, take note of unintended weight gain or loss, and be sure you understand how the medicines your loved one takes might impact their weight, appetite, or nutrient absorption.
As you probably have heard (and seen), many Americans’ waistlines are steadily expanding…including seniors’. According to 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38.5 percent of adults aged 60 and over are considered obese (with a body mass index [BMI] greater than 30). That number includes 37.5 percent of older men and 39.4 percent of older women, and those percentages have been trending upward in recent years. This extra weight contributes to numerous health issues including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and even certain types of cancer.
And there is another often-overlooked weight-related issue in our “super-sized” nation known for overeating. Looking at more CDC statistics from recent years, the number of people age 60 to 74 who are underweight—with a BMI under 18.5 or a weight 15 to 20 percent below normal for their age and height group—also has been increasing. In 2007, 0.9 percent of this age demographic was underweight, then it went up to 1.2 percent in 2010, and the most recent stats from 2014 have the number at 1.7 percent of seniors who are underweight.
There are a variety of reasons that can explain the prevalence of these weight extremes among the senior population including medical, social, and mental health issues.
For the many overweight or obese seniors:
For those who are underweight:
On top of these, there’s another issue that can contribute to unhealthy weight extremes in seniors. There are 2.5 million older adults with an alcohol or drug problem, and widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the U.S., according to The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Alcoholism can interfere with digestion and absorption of nutrients, and nutrition also will suffer if alcohol is substituted for meals.
Whether a senior is over- or underweight, there are multiple potential health consequences of poor nutrition in older people, among them:
If you are concerned about a loved one’s diet, there are several ways to address some of the common causes of weight-related issues.
If you are still concerned about your loved one’s weight, it may be worthwhile to seek outside assistance from a professional. If the person lives alone, you may consider hiring a home health aide who can help with activities of daily living (ADLs) like shopping, healthy meal preparation, and feeding, if needed. There also are nurses, social workers, and registered dietitians who make house calls to provide guidance on proper nutrition and eating habits. Community organizations like Meals on Wheels can even deliver healthy meals right to seniors’ doorstep.
For seniors who live in a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) or another type of retirement community, there are likely even more helpful resources available to proactively address concerns around proper nutrition. A CCRC provides residents with a minimum of one meal per day for those in independent living residences, with meal plans offered for up to three meals a day, depending on the resident’s wishes and level of independence.
Another benefit of living in a CCRC when it comes to senior nutrition is that, if desired by the resident, mealtime can double as social time. Within the community’s dining facilities, there are typically tables of various sizes to accommodate any number of people. Residents can choose whether to eat solo or join a group at a larger table for a more social dining experience. Additionally, many communities offer alternatives to the traditional “dining hall” such as more casual bistros, pubs, or coffee shops.
Many CCRCs also work closely with on-staff dietitians to address residents’ specific dietary requirements, ensuring that all residents are provided with healthy, nutritious food options. (Some communities are admittedly better than others at making accommodations for special diets, so be sure to ask about this at the CCRCs you are considering.) If further support is needed with ADLs like preparing meals or help with eating, a continuum of assisted living services is provided on-site, and skilled nursing care with physician oversight is also available if there is a medical issue at the root of the resident’s excess or inadequate weight.
As the saying goes, we are what we eat, and for seniors, it is especially important that they consume the proper amount of nutrient-rich foods to keep them at their optimal weight to bolster their overall health and keep them thriving. If you are concerned about your own weight or eating habits, or those of a loved one, there are several options to consider, but the best first step is to talk with a doctor.
At Falcons Landing, residents can delight in a hearty breakfast with friends or a lovely lunch date in our Woodburn Cafe. Perhaps they wish to meet neighbors at the Compass Club for a drink of choice. Or, perhaps dinner plans include meeting others in our formal dining room.
We're proud to give residents the choice to enjoy the nutritional and social aspects that come with sharing a meal with family and friends. It's another way you can live your best retirement with us at Falcons Landing. Learn more about our dining program by visiting our dining page by clicking here.
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