This week is Nutrition and Hydration Week, raising awareness and celebrating food and drink as a way of maintaining health and wellbeing. However, a lot of people seem to think that weight loss is a natural part of ageing; it isn’t.
According to Age UK’s Dianne Jeffrey “there is a perception that getting thinner is ‘normal’ in later life and that being overweight is more of a concern.” Loosing weight can be a symptom of undernourishment that is often missed in elderly people because they, or their carers believe it is normal. But this can not only lead to illness it can also delay or prevent recovery and rehabilitation.
So what are the signs of weight loss? Be on the look out for:
- loose fitting clothes
- loose jewellery like bracelets that slip off
- tightening belt buckles an extra notch
- mood swings,
- people finding it difficult to keep warm,
- becoming tired easily
- being prone to infections or colds
- lack of motivation and energy
However, while weight loss is not normal, loss of appetite is common in older people and needs addressing if possible. What might cause loss of appetite?
- Medication can have side effects that include loss of appetite or give foods a bad taste, so looking into that can save you a lot of time and worry.
- Lack of exercise and activity leads to a loss of appetite. Sometimes, seniors need to work up an appetite before they can eat.
- Being dehydrated can cause loss of appetite. Many older adults don’t get enough fluids and become dehydrated more easily because of age-related changes or medications they’re taking.
- Lack of a daily routine with regular meal times.
- Older people who live on their own might not be eating because food preparation is too difficult.
- With age, many people’s taste buds become less able to detect flavours. Normal food might be bland and unappetising to them.
- If eating has become too difficult or unpleasant, many older adults simply don’t want to eat.
- Sometimes people develop a sensitivity to the smell of certain foods that can make them feel nauseated or unable to eat.
- Depression affects 1 in 10 seniors and often causes loss of appetite. Many older adults also dislike mealtimes because they have nobody to eat with and their loneliness gets intensified.
- When older adults are dependent on others for everything, they’ve lost control over how they want to live their lives. Sometimes, not being able to choose what you’re going to eat makes you not want to eat at all.
- If mealtimes have become a time for disagreements or arguments about their eating, seniors can associate food with unpleasantness.
If you feel that someone you care about is affected by any of this, here are some practical things to try:
- Having a regular daily routine and serving food at roughly the same times every day helps their body be ready to eat at those times.
- Instead of a big plate, serve smaller portions of high nutrient foods. You could even change your routine to 5 small meals instead of 3 larger ones.
- Stop using utensils. The frustration of not being able to use a spoon, fork, or knife could make some older adults not want to eat at all. Finger foods could be the answer.
- Keep plenty of healthy and easy-to-eat snacks available.
- Make soups, milkshakes or smoothies. If chewing is difficult or tiring, even with small pieces of food, consider serving more liquidy foods.
- Think about the most suitable tableware or utensils. For someone with dementia for example, uncluttered simple tableware that limit visual distractions
- Keep track of what works
and what doesn’t.
We are all increasingly aware of the health risks associated with obesity, but we must also remember there are consequences if we don’t eat enough and lose weight. Malnutrition is unfortunately not a thing of the past; one in ten people over the age of 65 are estimated to be malnourished or at risk of malnutrition and the warning signs and symptoms are often missed.
Getting thinner is not a normal part of ageing and we must be aware of the signs and what action to take if weight starts to drop off. By arming ourselves with knowledge, we can go far in improving our health in later life.