Senior Friendly Implementation Coach at the Regional Geriatric Program of Toronto.
O.T. Reg. (Ont.), BSc OT (Hons.), MSc OT (Post-Professional)
Nutrition and the Older Adult: Food for clinical thought
Nutrition and the Older Adult: Food for clinical thought
March 2021 blog post written by Sangita Singh, O.T. Reg. (Ont.)
There is a health risk affecting a third to half of older adults in Canada that may not be getting the attention it deserves! Nutrition Risk – low or poor food or nutrient intake – is affecting many older adults across the continuum of care, and can lead to devastating effects if left unchecked.
Changes in health or the social determinants of health can impact an older adult’s relationship with food and affect their ability to achieve the sustenance they require. While good nutrition is important at any age, for older adults, “nutrition risk” can lead to undernutrition with significant health consequences. So, what can healthcare providers working with older adults do to address this concern?
Early identification is key. Weight change is an early sign of nutrition risk. If left unchecked, nutrition risk can lead to undernutrition, which can present as significant weight loss, loss of muscle and/or fat, changes in function (e.g., weakness, tiredness, low tolerance, poor cognition), and an increased risk of adverse health events such as delirium, depression, falls and mortality.
Given the current pandemic context, the ability of older adults to access needed supplies, goods and services should be flagged, and their nutrition risk assessed, especially if they present with the following risk factors: living alone, are on a low income, have low social support, are not driving, reporting depression, or taking more than five medications.
Clinicians can be critical in helping link their older adult clients with needed nutrition supports. Consider the following strategies to prevent and address nutrition risk:
- Screen for nutrition risk using a validated tool such as the Nutri-e-Screen (for community, home and primary care), the Canadian Nutrition Screen Tool, or CNST (for hospital) and the Mini Nutrional Assessment, or MNA (for residential care).
- Refer to a dietitian to help identify and address nutritional concerns.
- Share resources such as A Guide to Healthy Eating for Older Adults, the RGP’s Nutrition Patient Handout, and the Nutrition Awareness Poster.
- Provide older adults and their caregivers with links to up-to-date community services such as grocery shopping services and Meals on Wheels. Much of this information can be accessed through 2 1 1 (Ontario Community and Social Services Help Line).
- Ask older adults about engaging supports such as family, neighbours and friends.
- Learn more about nutrition in older adults in the sfCare Learning Series – Nutrition.
Older adults may not prioritize conversations about nutrition, instead focusing on immediate, specific health concerns. As healthcare providers, we have a vital role in optimizing their health by proactively preventing and addressing issues such as nutrition risk.
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