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July 30, 2020

Malnutrition in older adults: a growing issue

Senior Health Nutrition

Content sponsored by IBC - Native (195x33)

Elderly couple eating a meal at the kitchen table KatarzynaBialasiewicz/

Believe it or not, malnutrition — which means getting too little or too much of certain nutrients — is more common in older adults than in younger adults. Aging, however, is not typically the cause.

Malnutrition in older adults is most often a result of chronic disease, psychological conditions, or social issues. Some typical causes of malnutrition in older adults include chewing or swallowing disorders, heart failure, depression, social deprivation, and loneliness.

Malnutrition puts older adults at higher risk for a shortened lifespan, making nutrition an important part of keeping older adults healthy. If you’re someone (or you care for someone) who is managing a chronic illness, here are some recommendations on the topic of nutrition.

1. Return to common sense

There are some nutrition tips that have stood the test of time:

  1. Don’t skip meals
  2. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
  3. Avoid fast food
  4. Make sure every meal has some protein and carbohydrate and a little fat
  5. Make eating a social event

If you’re concerned about not being able to eat the right foods, talk to your doctor about starting a specific meal plan based on your chronic condition. Also ask about taking a multivitamin, supplements, and how much calcium and vitamin D you may need.

In addition to these common sense rules, keep an eye on whether you have lost weight in the last six months. While it may seem repetitive, it’s critical to get weighed at every doctor appointment. Unintentional weight loss can be a sign of a nutrition problem or other issues. For instance, is it difficult to move around your home and get into the kitchen? Are you having problems with your memory? Are you taking medications that alter your appetite?

2. Think of food as medicine

Hippocrates is credited with saying, “Let food be thy medicine.” As he suggested, nutrition is an important aspect of both treating and preventing illness, considering a large portion of adults in the U.S. are managing preventable chronic diseases that are related to their dietary habits.

If you struggle with knowing what to eat, keep in mind that Medicare allows for medical nutrition therapy, usually at no cost to you. Medical nutritional therapy means seeing a dietitian for help with your diet when you have a chronic disease like diabetes or kidney disease.

In addition, Independence Blue Cross members can also count on a team of registered nurse health coaches who are available 24/7 to help you manage chronic disease in a way that works with your doctor’s plan of care and your lifestyle. Don’t hesitate to call — members can reach a health coach by calling 1-800-ASK-BLUE (1-800-275-2583) (TTY/TDD: 711) and saying “health coach” when prompted for a call reason.

MANNA: Providing medically tailored meals and education

Independence Blue Cross has a wonderful relationship with MANNA, a Philadelphia-based company that uses nutrition to improve the health of those with serious illnesses. Through a first-of-its-kind partnership, a free and nutritious meal delivery program has been offered to Medicare Advantage members with certain chronic conditions after they’re discharged from the hospital. The partnership provides a lifeline to certain members who otherwise could not get the nutrients they need to get and stay well. MANNA empowers people to improve their health and quality of life through medically tailored meals and nutrition education.

This article was originally published on IBX Insights.

About Dr. Heidi J. Syropoulos

I joined Independence Blue Cross in 2015 after practicing Geriatrics for nearly 30 years. In my current role I function as the medical liaison to our Government markets team, serving as a subject matter expert on clinical medicine and healthcare delivery. What I love about my new position is the opportunity to help an entire population of people through the benefits of their health plan.

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