Why Are Seniors at a Higher Risk of Chronic Nutritional Deficit?
There is so much focus on training the right nutritional habits for good health, when we are young. Think about the number of times your family members reminded you daily, to eat healthy, choose better snacks, and drink more water? There is an understandable bias to train children into the kind of nutritional habits that will help them reduce the health risks of obesity, and chronic diseases.
While we are raising and guiding the next generation of healthy eaters, and fit active adults, senior citizens are not always provided with the same level of support, education and guidance, when it comes to essential nutritional habits. To further complicate the matter, many physiological, medical and lifestyle changes can impact even the most vigilant of healthy eaters, with symptoms of nutritional deficit that may be hard to detect, or mimic other health concerns.
Whether you are a senior or a caregiver, there are some important facts you should know about daily nutritional requirements, and obstacles to efficient nutrient absorption. The health impact of reduced absorption of both dietary and supplement sources, can impact cognitive and nervous system functioning, muscle and bone density, immunity to diseases and infections, and much more.
We share some of the signs and issues that contribute to nutritional deficiency, for education and awareness. Concerned readers should consult with their primary care provider for more information and clinical advice.
Can You Be Malnourished and Not Realize It?
There are many types of nutritional deficiencies that may, or may not provide noticeable signs and symptoms, to prompt action and medical advice. Seniors should be prepared to ask questions at the doctor’s office, particularly if they have noticed a change in mobility, functioning, speech or memory uses. We’re all guilty of some of the lifestyle habits that senior citizens adopt, particularly if they live alone. Why make the effort to cook a balanced meal, when you will be the only one eating? Transportation issues may make it harder for some seniors to consult with their own primary care provider, for monitoring and follow-up. For others, the unwillingness to explore health concerns may be impacted by financial motivators, including the inability to afford health care co-pays, or the cost of transportation.
One of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies, is the lack of iron, according to the World Health Organization, which reports a shocking 1/3 of the global population suffers transient or long-term iron deficiency. The WHO has labeled the iron-deficiency anemia as a global epidemic. Dietary sources of iron include dark green vegetables, red meat, and eggs, and it is a critical nutrient that the body requires, to manufacture red blood cells. Individuals who have a significant iron deficiency may feel tired, or notice dark circles under their eyes. Cognitive functioning can be compromised, and memory issues may occur. Without sufficient iron, red blood cells become less efficient at delivering oxygen to vital organs, causing fatigue; however generalized tiredness can also be attributed to other health concerns, making the real cause harder to diagnose.
Thiamine is an essential nutrient, that helps your body transform carbohydrates into metabolic energy, and it helps the central nervous system send signals or messages to major organs and other areas of the body. Without thiamine, seniors may experience weight loss, confusion and short-term memory loss.
Since thiamine is stored in the liver, it is most impacted by lifestyle habits. Increased alcohol consumption can also cause Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a disease of the liver. Without medical management, the Wernicke’s syndrome leads to encephalopathy, psychosis and brain damage. Because of the seriousness of a thiamine deficiency, many foods are regulated to be fortified with thiamine, including sliced bread, legumes, nuts, seeds and pork meat.
Nutritional Counseling and Medical Supervision as Part of Healthy Aging
Many prescription drugs bind themselves to essential nutrients, making it difficult for the body to absorb dietary nourishment, while others can reduce appetite, discouraging seniors from eating enough calories, vitamins and minerals. Specific types of prescription drugs can also alter the taste or smell of foods, making them unpalatable.
Some of the common medications include:
- Anti-ulcer therapies
- Thyroid medications
Seniors need to be aware that nutritional deficiencies can also be a health risk, even when they are ensuring a careful, comprehensive dietary plan. Medications that are common for chronic disease management, can impair nutrient absorption, without obvious signs that can be easily missed. Ongoing medical supervision and symptom awareness are key to ensuring that personal wellness and nutritional needs are not impacted adversely by prescription medications. A primary care physician can advise on the best nutritional supplements, to offset problems with nutrient absorption.