How to deal with malnutrition in older people

Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition and a poor diet. It’s important to know the warning signs of malnutrition, and here we look at some simple steps you can take to prevent, and deal with, malnutrition in seniors.

For older people, living at home is often the best option. They are comfortable and independent, and often feel the best quality of life. But they do sometimes need some guidance and support, especially in areas such as diet. Here are some simple things you can do monitor nutrition, and help your loved ones stay healthy and happy.

How to prevent malnutrition

  • Take personal preferences into account! Eating healthily as we age needn’t mean forcing down unwanted food. Preferences often change as people age, and it’s easier to keep up a good diet if the food is to our tastes, so stay up to date with what someone enjoys.
  • Keep mealtimes interesting— Encourage your loved ones to be involved in the planning, preparation and serving of meals wherever possible. Aromas can stimulate appetite, and feeling involved in the process will encourage them to eat up.
  • Make the dining experience comfortable— remove distractions and create a nice atmosphere. Prioritise eating over other activities or distractions.
  • Think about portion sizes— if someone is struggling with large meals, consider switching to regular small portions rather than 3 large meals per day. Finger foods often encourage someone to eat, even if they’re not up to a full meal.
  • Ensure healthy snacks and drinks are easily accessible— throughout the day, it should be easy for your loved one to access a healthy top up.
  • Avoid calorie-free or low-fat snacks unless your loved one’s GP has specifically recommended them.
  • Prioritise the mealtime routine— Avoid rushing meals or coercing someone to eat. Gentle encouragement and building a regular routine is key.

Extra things you can do to help

  • Make a shopping list, or help with shopping trips
  • If home cooking isn’t possible, help with access to a prepared meal service
  • Look into financial support that might be available to help with getting a meal service
  • Make sure everyone involved with supporting your loved ones, from family and friends to carers and neighbours, are kept up to date with their culinary preferences and needs
  • Avoid using the team ‘malnutrition’ with older people. People sometimes associate it with negative issues such as neglect or poverty, or might find it frightening. Instead, use phrases such as ‘keep well’.
  • Know the myths that people often wrongly believe about senior diet. For example, tackle the misconception that weight loss is a normal and unavoidable part of ageing.

So there’s lots you can do to help protect your loved ones from the negative effects of a poor diet. Don’t forget to also familiarise yourself with the common myths around diet in older people, and learn the warning signs that can indicate when someone is suffering from malnutrition.

Eating together regularly is one of the best things you can do to help, and remember that a little extra help at home can make a massive difference to a person’s health. If you’d like to talk about the in-home support we offer here at Home Instead Camden, or have any concerns about your loved ones’ wellbeing, please get in touch.