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Malnutrition in Elderly & Dementia

Malnutrition. Can you guess how malnutrition paired with dementia can affect seniors negatively?
While many know some of the symptoms caused by dementia such as memory loss and irritability, few know that dementia also causes loss of appetite and difficulty swallowing. This ultimately leads to a major problem in the older adult population: Malnutrition.

Dementia is a general term that describes a chronic disorder of the mental processes by brain disease or injury that interferes with daily life. Caregivers who deal with dementia need to be informed and trained in how it can affect seniors and how they can prevent elderly nutrition.

Effects of Malnutrition in Elderly

These symptoms lead to malnourishment. Estimates show that by 2030 over 20% of people ages 65 and older will have dementia. Therefore, understanding how to prevent malnourishment among senior with dementia is vital. A malnourished older adult with dementia can start experiencing anxiety and depression.

Factors Causing Malnutrition

There are several factors that contribute to malnutrition, so caregivers must focus on these factors to prevent malnourishment in the elderly. One of the key factors is loss of appetite. Loss of appetite can result from side effects of medication, lack of exercise, difficulty swallowing, or disgust for certain types of food.

Particularly, side effects of medication is difficult to combat, but consulting with a doctor to discuss medication options can often help. On the other hand, simple and easy exercises such as a daily walk or indoor chair exercises can increase appetite. During meal time, a caregiver should make gentle touches to a senior throat or give verbal reminders to help a senior be able to swallow. Furthermore, understanding a senior’s culinary likes and dislikes is crucial. Preparing the senior’s favorite meals can drastically increase a senior’s desire to eat. To that effect we suggest discussing it with the senior, its family and take notes as to not forget any details (for example, some might like food a little more seasoned than others who might like food more bland)

Malnutrition, Dementia and Senses

One factor that is often difficult to overcome that result in malnutrition is loss of the senses. Problems with the senses can occur in dementia patients and can lead to problems such as misjudgment of temperature, loss of smell, loss of taste, and even the loss of spatial recognition. Misjudgment of temperature can lead to severe burns. Therefore, checking that food temperature is appropriate to eat is essential. The loss of smell and taste can severely eliminate the incentive to eat. Eating food that is tasteless leads to loss of appetite which leads to malnourishment. This challenge is difficult to overcome because oftentimes caregivers can be unaware this is the root of the loss of appetite. A caregiver must communicate with the senior to learn the symptoms they are feeling. Once a caregiver knows the senior is losing taste and smell senses he can begin identifying what foods the senior can and cannot taste, and prepare more of the foods the senior can taste. The loss of spatial recognition confuses the senior to where they are unable to distinguish the food from the plate making it difficult to eat. To alleviate this confusion, caregivers should use white plates which contrast with the colors of the food.

Risk Factors of Malnutrition in Elderly

In conclusion, malnutrition is common amongst dementia patients as a result of the difficulty of eating, the seemingly tasteless food, and the loss of appetite. Helping a senior eat the necessary nutrition requires astute attention to detail to help solve the root of the problems. Loss of appetite, for example, can result from several different factors, and thorough understanding of the causes and the senior can guide the caregiver to devise a method to increase the senior’s appetite. Nutrition is essential to everyone life, therefore one must take action to ensure senior’s with dementia don’t suffer malnutrition.

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