There seems to be a constant barrage of warnings aimed at middle-aged and older adults that carrying too much extra weight is a risk factor for nearly every significant chronic illness from heart disease to osteoarthritis. And while this is true, very little is said about older adults who have difficulty keeping weight on without any underlying medical cause; and being underweight can cause serious problems for seniors.
According to England’s National Health Service, older adults who have trouble maintaining a healthy weight and are underweight can suffer a weakened immune system, have an increased risk for bone fracture and find themselves deficient in important vitamins and minerals. A poor diet or a loss of appetite can lead to being underweight which may also cause older adults to feel tired and lacking energy.
It’s important that seniors who are losing weight without an obvious explanation talk with their doctor first to rule out any serious health problems. A physician may also recommend that an older adult who can’t gain weight be referred to a nutrition specialist or dietitian. There are also small changes that seniors who struggle to gain weight can try at home to boost their calorie intake and improve the nutritional value of their diet.
Often the appetite decreases in older age but by switching to smaller, more frequent meals seniors can ensure they get sufficient calories. What you eat is as important as how often; empty calorie foods like soda, processed cookies, cakes or chips won’t meet the nutritional needs of the older adults. Instead try adding full-fat dairy, avocado, unsalted nuts, nut butter or dried fruits to meals and snacks to boost the calories and nutritional value.
Eating with others can also help improve appetite; dining is naturally a social event and older adults who live alone may benefit from joining a lunch club or making regular plans with family and friends to share meals. Daily physical activity is also important. Not only does exercise promote strength, balance and fitness but it can also improve appetite. Seniors who have difficulty shopping and preparing their own meals can benefit from a food delivery service such as Meals on Wheels.
For recipes and more information about how older adults can gain healthy weight, follow this link to the UnlockFood website, created by Dietitians of Canada.