With age, the body and nutritional needs change, but do not decrease. From the age of 75, it is common to notice a decrease in appetite, linked to multiple factors that we will discuss below.
In France, according to the SFNEP (Société Francophone Nutrition Clinique & Métabolisme), 2 million people are affected by undernutrition, including 400,000 elderly people living at home. According to INSEE, the proportion of those over 75 will reach one in five by 2050. A figure that is far too high and which calls for more vigilance on the part of relatives and caregivers. The prevention and treatment of undernutrition are a public health priority which motivated the establishment of the PNNS (Programme National Nutrition Santé). Its main objective is to reduce the percentage of elderly people suffering from undernutrition, living at home or in an institute.
What are the risk factors and consequences of undernutrition?
According to the HAS, undernutrition is defined as “an imbalance between nutritional intake and the body’s needs resulting in tissue loss, especially muscle loss, which has harmful functional consequences”.
There are many risk factors that can cause undernutrition in older people.
- Social and family isolation with the geographic breakdown of the family, the loss of a spouse, loss of autonomy, economic insecurity, incomprehension between generations, fear of asking for help, etc.
- Illness or pathological events (pain, surgical procedures) which weaken the physical and mental state of the elderly.
- Taking medication may affect taste and smell and be the result of decreased appetite.
- Decreased physical activity can lead to loss of appetite and can also result in inability to prepare meals. Find out here why maintaining regular physical activity is important for seniors;
- Oral problems: poorly adapted equipment, difficult chewing, reduced salivation, difficulty swallowing can cause loss of appetite.
Other factors can present risks of undernutrition such as the accumulation of tiredness, depression, low level of income, etc.
Often underestimated due to its difficult to identify symptoms, undernutrition can have serious consequences for the elderly.
- Gradual or rapid weight loss which can have as another consequence anorexia or asthenia
- Undernutrition leads to a decrease in immune defenses. Weak people are therefore more prone to infections and viral diseases
- Decrease in muscle mass. The muscles weaken which causes weakness and general fatigue which can lead to balance problems and sometimes even falls.
How can we prevent the risk of malnutrition among our seniors?
Review your eating habits
To prevent undernutrition, it is important to put in place good eating habits:
- Enrich the diet with proteins, milk and creams to improve nutritional intake.
- Favor foods that are easy to eat: soup, minced meat, mashed potatoes, etc. to facilitate chewing.
- To overcome the lack of taste and smell, favor spicier meals.
Watch over your elders
It is generally more difficult to estimate food intakes in older people living alone than in children or adults for several reasons:
- Inability for relatives to control the intake of the meal, its quality, its quantity …
- The possible presence of amnesic disorders. Some people will not remember if they had a meal at midday which will increase the number of meals skipped.
It is therefore advisable to seek the help of relatives, caregivers or professionals who are able to report any modification related to eating behavior. How can loved ones be able to act on this reduced diet?
How does the NOVIAcare box measure the diet of seniors?
The first signs of undernutrition can occur around the age of 75. To avoid this risk and the occurrence of aggravating consequences, the installation of a NOVIAcare box in the home of the elderly person makes it possible to provide an understanding of the potential drifts in terms of food in particular. Once the box and its sensors are discreetly installed in the senior’s home, it will only take a few days for them to learn their lifestyle. Sensors are judiciously placed in the kitchen (on the refrigerator or even the cutlery drawer, for example) and will allow the hours and number of times the door is opened and closed to be analysed.
As soon as the NOVIAcare box has learned enough about the senior’s activity, it will be able to analyse his daily behaviour and detect any anomaly related to food but also to other measured activities (eg: activity, hygiene, sleep, toilet). IF NOVIAcare notices that the activity is gradually reduced, or even suddenly on the taking of meals for example, the entourage who wishes it can be notified thanks to the free mobile application NOVIAcare, which automatically generates life reports of the person aged.
In the event of an emergency, an alert will also be sent to the 24/7 remote assistance center.
These warning signs represent real help for loved ones who will be able to anticipate undernutrition and take action by setting up appropriate services.
What solutions to overcome proven undernutrition?
As soon as a decrease in diet or weight loss is observed in an elderly person, a medical consultation should first be scheduled.
Hiring a nutritionist can also help older people eat properly, rediscover the pleasure of cooking and eating, and help them develop dishes that meet their nutritional needs.
Regular medical monitoring and regular screening for malnutrition should be maintained. To assess the nutritional status of a person there is a test that assesses weight loss, the change in weight over a given period and to reveal whether the malnutrition is moderate or severe
This test is the Mini Nutritional Assessment (MNA).
The presence of help at home, whether professional or family, allows them to ensure that the elderly eat in a regular and balanced way. In addition, this presence makes this moment more convivial.
From a more practical point of view, solutions for carrying meals at home can be implemented, as well as assistance to accompany seniors with their shopping.
It is therefore important to ensure that the elderly maintain a balanced diet in order to maintain their independence and limit pathologies linked to aging.