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Nutritionally deficient seniors not always easy to recognize

Malnourished senior citizens don’t all appear frail, isolated and tired. In fact, most appear normal, active and in charge of their lives.
Despite such an appearance, the Mayo Clinic has reported that 85 percent of adults in long term care facilities and half of all seniors cared for at home suffer from undernutrition or malnutrition.
“The statistic is scary,” said Sue Brooks, nutrition coordinator for Lincoln County Senior Services.
Being malnourished does not necessarily mean consuming too few calories. Instead, it means consuming the wrong kinds of calories.
Many seniors living alone subsist on quick and easy meals, foods like toast, cold cereal and popcorn.
“People don’t want to cook for one person,” said Melinda Houser with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
Limited income, restricted diets and diminished taste and smell can all lead to malnutrition. No matter what the cause, the effect of malnutrition is the same – bad health.
Nutrient-poor diets can accelerate the loss of muscle mass and strength that normally comes with aging. It can also make existing health problems worse and weaken the immune system.
Finding this problem in a loved one is not always easy. Oftentimes, seniors suffer from malnutrition not because they’re lonely, but because they’re busy.
“People tend to grab quick and eat quick, eat instant,” Houser said.
The first step to discovering a problem is to ask, but officials at the Mayo Clinic suggest taking things a step further.
Look for physical problems such as poor wound healing, easy bruising and dental difficulties. Know what drugs they’re taking and how they affect appetite and digestion.
It’s also good to encourage seniors to eat socially. The Lincoln County Senior Services Nutrition Program does just that, allowing adults to eat a nutritional meal at specific area restaurant 12 times each month.
The program has proven popular – so much so, its waiting list has well over 200 names.
Senior Services offers other educational programs focusing on nutrition for older adults, as does the Cooperative Extension. In fact, an upcoming Cooperative Extension workshop will focus on preparing vegetables straight from the farm.
For more information on senior nutrition or available programs call Lincoln County Senior Services at (704) 732-9053 or the Cooperative Extension at (704) 736-8461.
by Sarah Grano

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