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senior home health malnutritionSenior home health experts indicate there are many factors that contribute to senior malnutrition.

It may be surprising to some, but senior malnutrition is a significant problem in the United States. Given that senior home health experts indicate that a lack of proper nutrition can lead to a weakened immune system, muscle weakness and a difficult time healing from wounds, identifying the causes of malnutrition and working to correct nutritional deficits is an important part of monitoring senior health.

Before determining how to identify seniors who may be suffering from malnutrition and how to intervene, it is important to consider the reasons why seniors may become malnourished. There is a tendency to assume that malnutrition is a problem that only low income seniors might face, but senior home health experts note that actually senior malnutrition is a far more complex issue and can be impacted by physical, social, emotional factors in addition to economic issues.

Physically, health issues – particularly dementia and dental health issues – can lead to decreased appetite or difficulty actually consuming food.  Other health issues identified by senior home health experts which can contribute to malnutrition include side effects of certain medications and conditions that prevent absorption of certain nutrients. In addition, food can become less appealing due to a decrease in the ability to taste or smell food due to certain medications or conditions, or the dietary restrictions in place to control certain medical conditions which require limiting the amounts of flavor enhancers like salt, fat and sugar in the diet. Alcoholism can affect nutrition as alcohol can interfere with digestion. Alcohol also presents a problem if non-nutritious calories from alcohol are consumed instead of nutritious foods.

Seniors who have found their social lives limited as they age may become more susceptible to malnutrition, especially if food was a social or family activity for them in the past, and they no longer have friends or family with whom to share daily meals.  Finding the energy to prepare meals only for themselves and facing the prospect of eating alone can impact how well a senior is eating, which can impact overall nutrition.

Some of these physical and social factors can impact seniors’ emotional health which can also factor into nutritional health.  Seniors who are depressed due to poor health, grief, loneliness, or isolation due to lack of mobility and few opportunities for social contact may find they do not have the appetite to eat the number of daily calories required to maintain adequate nutrition.  When they do eat, they are more likely to make unhealthy food choices.

Economic issues, of course, do play a significant role in malnutrition, when seniors may be inclined to make less healthy but cheaper choices when buying food due to living on a limited income.  Another significant economic factor is the cost of medications, where seniors may struggle to pay for expensive medications that cut into their grocery budget, forcing them to make difficult choices between medications and nutritious foods.

The complex causes of malnutrition can make it more difficult to identify it in senior adults.  Check back next week for the second part in this series on senior malnutrition, where senior home health experts will help identify ways to spot malnutrition in the senior population.

This is the first article in a series on senior malnutrition. The second article will offer information on how to spot malnutrition in seniors, and the final article will address recommendations from senior health experts on steps to take if malnutrition is suspected.

home healthcare agency nurseFor seniors who have a medical condition or recently suffered an injury, a home healthcare agency can mean the difference between staying in their own home for many years or having to turn to long term nursing home care.

The services offered by a home healthcare agency will vary depending on the specific home health provider.  Services offered may include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and skilled nursing.  These services are provided on-site in the comfort of the senior’s own home.

Home health care is different from home care. Home health care is medical health care, whereas home care typically includes housekeeping, companionship and personal care assistance services to seniors. Many seniors who require home care assistance with cooking, cleaning or getting dressed do not require the specialized services of a home health care provider. In contrast to a home care agency that will provide services to seniors as they age or are simply in need of additional assistance, a home healthcare agency usually helps seniors recover from an illness or injury. Home healthcare agencies will generally have licensed practical nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists or home health aides on staff.

Depending on the variety of services offered, a particular home healthcare agency may also offer services that are generally considered home care services, including assistance with bathing, dressing, eating and other activities of daily living.  Other home care type services that a home healthcare agency may offer include cooking, cleaning, housekeeping and medication monitoring.

If both home health and home care services are needed, it is important to determine if the agencies you are considering offer both services, or if two agencies will need to provide the different types of services.  Obtaining the right kind of assistance for a senior can help keep a senior in their home for many additional months, or even years, which usually leads to greater happiness and better health.

health care providers healthy resolutionsEvery year, many new year’s resolutions are made as midnight approaches on January 1st. Here are a few New Year’s resolution suggestions for seniors geared toward having a healthy year in 2015 and beyond.

Increase Daily Physical Activity Levels 

OK, exercising is a pretty obvious resolution and a common one for people of all ages, but that is because it is an important one.  If you want to be healthy, you have to keep active.  Health care providers recommend setting a realistic goal.  If you’ve never exercised before, running a marathon is not a realistic goal.  Taking a 30 minute walk 4 or 5 times a week may be more realistic. Or check out the class offerings for active older adults at the local YMCA.  Make a goal to do something active outside of your regular routine at least a few times a week.  Then stick to your goal, and if you miss a week, make the resolution all over again.

Eat Healthier

Again, set realistic goals.  Health care providers recommend a diet that you can stay on for life, so do not set yourself up for the impossible. If you say everything you eat has to be 100% healthy, you are likely to fail by January 2nd.  Choose one unhealthy thing to eliminate, like refined sugars or trans fats.  Another option is to choose to eat healthy things first, like 5 servings of fresh vegetables daily, before letting yourself indulge in a sweet or dessert.   Or try a change in the types of foods you eat – try eating mostly fresh whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meats and poultry, and fish and eliminate highly processed foods as much as possible.  Every little change helps and the more realistic it is the more sustainable it will be for the long term.

Engage In Mental Fitness Activities

Learn a language, play trivia or brain games, join a book discussion group, take a class.  Keeping your brain active and engaged will keep you mentally astute and healthy.

Take Care Of Your Health 

Health care providers advise preventative checkups on a regular basis to prevent common conditions from getting out of control.  Get routine health screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, bone density, thyroid levels and other routine health screenings.  Have health screenings for prostate or other cancers.  Get your mammogram scheduled. If you’ve been avoiding the eye doctor, dentist, primary care physician or other health care providers, it’s time to make an appointment.  Have you been neglecting to start your cholesterol medication or get your new glasses prescription?  Resolve to take the actions you know you need to improve your health. 

Improve Your Home’s Safety

To prevent falls, add new lighting, move cords out of hallways and walkways, make sure the edges of carpets and rugs are securely fastened.  Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors and consider adding a carbon monoxide detector.  Consider having someone do repairs to loose floorboards or faulty wiring.  Have the heating system checked for safety if you didn’t get around to it before the holidays. 

Expand Your Social Network

Good mental health is as important as good physical health in many ways.  Maintaining relationships is an important part of keeping seniors mentally healthy and avoiding isolation which can lead to depression.  If a senior is becoming increasingly isolated, consider ways to connect: join a senior center, get active with a church or community group, or consider volunteering with a community organization.  If it is difficult to get out, consider inviting friends or family members over for visits more frequently, and use the phone or letters to keep connected.

By making health and wellness resolutions like these, seniors can be on their way to a healthy, happy New Year!

home heath care provider exerciseAccording to home health care provider experts, seniors should participate in mobility exercises on a regular basis.  A home health care provider can assist seniors with performing mobility exercises, which can lead to an improvement in overall functioning.

Mobility exercises should be part of every senior’s physical activity regimen.  Doing mobility exercises on a regular basis can help seniors maintain joint flexibility, decrease their risk of falling, reduce pain, increase self-confidence.  In addition, these exercises allow seniors to remain independent longer by enabling them to continue everyday activities that involve bending, lifting, walking and tasks like opening jars. Before beginning any exercise program, it is always best to check with a doctor or home health care provider about appropriate activities given the specifics of one’s health and mobility.

There are several different types of activities that can improve senior mobility.  Seniors may wish to consider the following:

Water Activities

Exercising in the water is a gentle form of exercise that is usually easier and less painful for people with joint pain or inflammation due to arthritis or fibromyalgia. Since water makes individuals naturally buoyant, there is less chance of falling, and weight and pressure is taken off the joints. If the water is warm, water exercise can improve blood circulation by dilating blood vessels and raising the senior’s body temperature.  The water level can be adjusted according to fitness level, with chest deep water offering a more strenuous work out than waist deep water.   Start by walking across the pool or around the perimeter, increasing repetitions as strength increases.

Chair Activities

Excising while seated in a chair can help mobility impaired or wheelchair bound seniors improve their mobility and can also be used as a warm up for individuals with greater mobility. In addition to activities done while seated, more able-bodied individuals can do exercises using the chair for balance or stability. Different types of chair exercises can be guided by specifically designed videos or TV programs, during classes for older adults provided at facilities like the YMCA, or by a home health care provider.

Stay Safe

It is important to be cautious when beginning an exercise program.  Begin gradually and increase the intensity and duration after building up stamina and skill. Dress in clothing that allows for unrestricted movement, with properly fitted shoes. Drink lots of water while exercising to avoid dehydration.  If exercising outside, beware of hazards like uneven surfaces, traffic, and obstacles like rocks and branches.  Make sure to exercise in a safe area and do not exercise outside if temperatures are extreme. In addition, all individuals – and particularly those with conditions including shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations, rapid unexplained weight loss, blood clots, hernia, pneumonia or other infections, or joint inflammation or pain should consult with a doctor or home health care provider before beginning an exercise program.  In addition, seniors should use extreme caution while exercising and individuals who experience dizziness, nausea, sudden pain or break out in a cold sweat while exercising should stop immediately.

By integrating mobility exercises into seniors’ regular routines, senior adults can expect to see improvement in their mobility and overall quality of life.

diabetes home health providerFor people struggling to manage and control their diabetes, dealing with all the sweet temptations of the holidays can be very stressful.  However, by taking several simple steps to prepare, holiday meals and parties can be enjoyable and not derail diabetes control.  .

Home health provider and health care experts recommend the following:

Know your needs and risks

Before the holidays, establish guidelines of what foods you need, and what foods to avoid entirely or limit.  Diabetics need to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates they consume.  Carbohydrates include sweets, rice, pasta, bread and starchy vegetables. When counting carbohydrates, make sure to know what a portion is, reading the label if necessary. Combining a protein with any carbohydrates can help to keep blood sugar levels in check.  Proteins include eggs, cheese, milk, beans, nuts, fish and meat.  Check with a doctor or home health provider if you have questions as to proper diet for your condition.

Plan your menu

Try to determine what is on the menu at a restaurant or holiday party before you go so you can plan your day’s eating, medication and activity schedule accordingly. Before you go, make sure you fill up on low carb and nutritious food and know your blood sugar level.  If you are not sure there will be healthy alternatives, bring your own low carb foods to snack on so you are not tempted by unhealthy choices. During the party or event, drink plenty of calorie free and carbohydrate free drinks.  If you are going to consume alcohol, make sure to have no more than 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men and avoid high calorie mixers like margarita mix, soda, tonic or juice.  For dessert, limit your portion to a small cookie or small piece of cake instead of a full piece.  

Stay active

Although it is easy to have exercise routines go by the wayside during the holidays, physical activity helps your body use insulin, which is important to controlling blood sugar.  Even if you have to cut back your activity during the holidays, make sure to keep as much activity as possible throughout the holiday season.

After the holidays

Make sure to get back into your routine after the holidays. Once the holiday festivities have come to an end, make sure to get back to your regular levels physical activity.  If you went a bit overboard with sweets or other treats, make the New Year a time to return to healthy practices.  If you got entirely off track or have serious concerns, you should check with a doctor or home health provider about how to best improve your health.

By taking care of your health during the holidays, you can have a more enjoyable holiday and celebrate your health in the New Year.