The recent spell of hot weather brought the familiar debate over whether my shorts and T-shirts had shrunk over the winter months, or it was time to recommence my annual and largely unsuccessful fight against flab. It is a familiar story for many of us, with fears about obesity and the associated health risks dominating.
Unfortunately, while being overweight is clearly a health issue, which receives much prominence in the press, at the other end of the spectrum we have those suffering with malnourishment. This is often forgotten, yet recent researched shows that in 2015 there were around three million people in the UK that were malnourished or at risk of being malnourished. A million of these being over the age of 65. Elderly people living at home on their own may have a tendency not to eat wisely or drink enough
. Our appetites appear to diminish as we get older. Some of our customers have said the lack of sociability of eating alone and the effort of preparing a balanced meal for one person sometimes makes them lose their appetite. One of my lovely lady customers always tells me “Why worry? It’s not like I’m at the size I was when I was a young woman.” For others it can be a reduced sense of taste or smell or the recognition that they’re doing less exercise. There has also been research that suggests malnutrition can be linked to poor mobility, where older people are unable to stand or reach meaning they cannot use their kitchen safely. Furthermore, those living which dementia frequently miss meals due to their lack of memory. Meanwhile, doctors tell me that as we grow older, our kidneys become less effective. Our older bodies are not as good at hydrating and then conserving water making it easier for us to become dehydrated.
Why should we worry about good eating and drinking habits for the elderly? Statistically, malnourished older people visit their GP twice as often, experience more hospital admissions and have longer lengths of stay. People that don’t eat and drink well also have an increased risk of infection and urinary tract infections and have longer recovery times from illness. In short, the easiest way to avoid regular periods of hospital confinement is to eat well and take on sufficient fluids. So, if we can save on the number of visits to hospital we may yet save the NHS!
When considering eating and drinking well Halcyon carers are trained to follow these “rules” and I recommend you adopt when dealing with an elderly loved one.
1. Present a meal which is appetising. Don’t forget the setting of the table or tray and think like you’re serving to a customer in a restaurant.
2. Consider whether by joining someone at the table while they eat may result in more food and nourishment being taken in. It can be lonely eating alone but don’t make yourself an unwanted guest!
3. Let’s provide appropriate sized meals. Many older people came from a generation where leaving something on a plate was socially scorned. So let’s encourage people to have the satisfaction of finishing their meals and agree to abandon the “no clean plate, no dessert rule”.
4. Serve a drink with every meal and leave a drink within easy reach when you go.
5. We strongly believe as in all elderly care that there is a principal of “Use it … or lose it”. So, please do encourage safe participation in preparing the meal.
6. Variety is good for diet and appetite. Let’s abolish the mandatory cheese sandwich for lunch and offer imaginative alternative suggestions.
7. Don’t accept “ I ate earlier” without searching for evidence that some eating took place, for example, dirty dishes and foods still left out.
8. If someone really isn’t hungry make a “deal” to leave something out but agree you’re going to check it’s been eaten when you come back!
9. If you have suspicions about fluid intake levels use a jug that has a measure down the side to fill glasses and celebrate when it gets emptied.
10. If snacks are a normal part of a diet try and avoid products with too much sugar or salt.