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Reader Question: My mom is ninety-two years old. She weighs 62 lbs and has been diagnosed with dementia. She doesn’t want to eat. What can I do? How do I deal with this trauma of dementia and weight loss!

First, let me begin by offering a virtual hug. I can feel your sadness through the keyboard, and you are certainly not alone. Let me say, you are brave, you are allowed to feel sad, and you are doing an amazing job by taking the time to educate yourself.

I have seen many adult children heartbroken over the changes their loved one’s experience during a dementia journey. There is no easy way to navigate the mental and physical changes your mom is experiencing. But, I will do my best to offer some advice that might help a bit.

Dementia and weight loss

Before the changes in speech and the obvious lapses in memory, one of the first sneaky signs of dementia is changing weight. Weight loss can be the result of many things including positive lifestyle changes and illness.

But, when weight loss is dramatic or continues over a long period of time unintentionally, it may deserve a closer look. As dementia progresses body composition may continue to change.

When a person is diagnosed with dementia it is very important to monitor both fluid and food intake.

Why does dementia affect weight loss?

Dementia is an umbrella term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s. But, other conditions may contribute to dementia including Parkinson’s and Stroke.

The point is, dementia may be a cognitive condition, but it affects the whole body. There may be several reasons a loved one experiences unintended weight loss.

Loss of interest in food

As a care provider I have spent considerable time with senior adults talking about food and meal planning. For those struggling with dementia and weight loss, there is often a disconnect between the feeling of hunger and the actions required to meet that need. As people age, they may experience a loss of taste making food less appealing.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen a person with dementia say no to food only to clean the plate once placed in front of her.

Helpful tip: offer prepared food that is appetizing and in line with your loved one’s tastes. Make sure to show the food and make it easy to eat and enjoy.

Inability to process food

Sometimes weight loss occurs because the body become less efficient in processing food. It is important to have your loved one seen by a medical professional if you notice rapid or persistent unintended weight loss. There may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Helpful tip: track your loved one’s weight. And keep good notes on food intake. Regularly share this information with your chosen medical professional.

Confusion on how to eat

As dementia progresses, one simple task become complex series of activities. Even using a fork or managing coordination from plate to mouth becomes impossible. Make sure your loved one isn’t giving up on food out of frustration or fear.

Inability to recognize food happens to some people with dementia. I remember my grandfather helping himself to a huge serving of potpourri before a family member recognized this nonfood item on his plate. The same confusion can happen with once loved food items.

Helpful tip: Don’t crowd a plate and keep items separated. Use solid patterned plates that help the food items to stand out. Think how confusing a flower printed plate could be to someone with dementia and reduced vision.

Focus on foods your loved one will eat now! Maybe mom hated mashed potatoes a decade ago, but if she likes them now -roll with it!

Anxiety

It is terrifying to feel lost while performing a task you know you should be able to do! Offer encouragement and create an environment that is comfortable.

Sometimes, a person is cognitively aware that he cannot self feed and may feel embarrassed. Be sensitive to a loved one’s pride and look for ways to support independence while meeting physical needs.

Helpful tip: watch to see if your loved one struggles with the activity of eating. Simple changes like offering a fork with a larger easy grip handle can make big changes in your loved one’s ability to eat.

Prepare foods that are easier to move from plate to mouth. Be creative and supportive. Make happy mealtimes the goal and let go of expectations for mealtime norms.

Physical Limitations

Changes in physical ability make it harder to access food. A person who was once a whiz in the kitchen may feel to tired or overwhelmed to prepare meals. Make sure your loved one still has access to the food he or she needs.

You would be surprised at how many seniors stopped eating regularly because it is too hard to cook, reach shelves, and go to the store.

Helpful tip: reorganize food and food related chores to meet your loved one’s needs. Sometimes, adults facing dementia and weight loss do not realize they have stopped cooking or eating regularly. It is important to create routines. And, offer ways to compensate when physical limitations in the kitchen get in the way of meal times.

Depression and Loss of routine

Dementia can make people feel restless and agitated. They often loose a sense of routine and structure. There are many changes going on and food can seem like a lost priority.

Helpful tip: maintain routines and help keep things interesting. Try planning engaging outings and make sure to include regular feedings.

I once had a client who would make herself toast and butter with a cup of coffee each morning when the coffee timer beeped. A well-meaning family member switched out the old coffee pot with and easier to use new model.

Unfortunately, when the coffee pot beeper left so did the coffee and toast routine. People with dementia create alternate pathways to routine and memory. Try to protect those rituals and create new ones with very simple regular cues.

dementia and weight loss may often coexist but you can make small adjustment to a persons daily routines to support better nutrition. If you need more support and you live in Southern California you can contact us. Otherwise, we recommend you work with a private Care Manager.

These professionals are usually nurses or social workers and they can help you develop routines, tools, and plans to make meal times more pleasant for everyone.

 


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July 3, 2020 Senior Nutrition1

Low potassium in the elderly.

Potassium is an important electrolyte that is important for nerve and muscle function in the body.

It helps your heartbeat to stay regular.

Potassium is also important for proper cell function.

Cells in our bodies are constantly moving substances in and out of them – waste products are taken out and important nutrients are brought in for instance.

Potassium is crucial for these functions. Thus, without it, different muscle groups and cell function is impaired.

What causes low potassium in the elderly?

Diuretics

Diuretics are commonly-prescribed high blood pressure medication. People who take diuretics have increased urine production. And with increased urination comes the loss of electrolytes like potassium.

Overuse of laxatives

While the occasional use of a laxative is helpful in getting rid of constipation, it is important not to overuse it.

In fact, overusing a laxative causes diarrhea which results in a large loss of water and electrolytes like potassium.

If you or your elderly loved one is experiencing chronic constipation, it’s important to see a doctor about it.

Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a very common cause of low potassium in the elderly.

Diarrhea and excess vomiting

This can be the cause of low potassium as well.

Kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease will also contribute to a low blood potassium level.

What are the symptoms of low potassium?

When potassium levels fall below a certain level, the individual may experience:

  • muscle cramps or twitching
  • an irregular heartbeat
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • constipation (which is why it is important to not overuse laxatives!)

If you notice that these symptoms persist, it’s important to see a doctor immediately.

How is low potassium in the elderly prevented and treated?

Food is the best source of potassium for anyone at any age. And since prevention is always better than treatment, preventing low potassium starts with eating potassium-rich foods.

Here are twenty foods that are rich in potassium.

  • Grapes
  • Blackberries
  • Honeydew
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapefruit
  • Spinach
  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Fish like tuna, halibut and cod are also rich in potassium
  • Lima beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Molasses
  • Nuts
  • Bran cereal
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta

If a doctor notes through testing that blood potassium levels are very low. And, they might administer IV potassium to your loved one at the hospital.

Since we are not medical professionals, it is important to speak with your doctor if you feel you are experiencing a medical issue. And, doctors can prescribe supplements!

Also, they might treat any underlying disease contributing to this low potassium.


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April 30, 2019 Senior Nutrition0

What are probiotics?

Are they healthy for you?

What are the benefits of consuming probiotics?

By the end of this post, you will have an answer to each of these questions.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and other micro-organisms that are healthy for you.

Typically, when you hear people talk about probiotics, they are talking about the kind that are healthy for your digestive system.

Are probiotics healthy for you?

In order to answer this question, we will have to lay some foundations.

Different parts of your body contain resident bacteria and micro-organisms that live in symbiosis with you.

This means, these bacteria and the human body are actually co-dependent.

In the digestive system for instance, bacteria produce chemicals that help your body to ward off bacteria that cause disease.

There is research that shows that, good bacteria contribute to slowing down inflammation in the intestines.

When these bacteria are removed due to an excessive intake of antibiotics for instance, it leads to all kinds of imbalances including infection with the notorious bacteria Clostridium difficile (usually shortened as C. dif).

In fact, one study showed that, in patients who had recurring C. dif infections, replacing their good bacteria was effective in preventing another infection by over 90%!

So, good bacteria contribute many useful benefits to our bodies.

And just like you would take a vitamin as a supplement in addition to getting nutrients from your food, you can supplement your “good” bacteria and yield benefits.

What are the benefits of consuming probiotics?

As I mentioned above, probiotics contribute to the health of your digestive system in a plethora of ways.

  1. Keeps your digestive organs in check so there is no infection
  2. Reduces inflammation by producing chemicals that reduce the factors that trigger inflammation
  3. There are studies that now link the quality of probiotics in your system to mental health. So this is an area where your health could be improved as well.
  4. Brain health may be affected by probiotics too.
  5. There is research that suggests that probiotics are useful when it comes to weight loss and maintaining it.
  6. Certain probiotics may reduce allergies and eczema.
  7. Probiotics boost your immune system. Since it is well-documented that elders tend to have immune system issues, probiotics are useful in reversing some of these effects.

And all these benefits have been backed by on-going research.

So there is really no end to how much you can benefit from probiotics.

What does this mean for you?

In general, probiotics are healthy for you.

As with anything however, always check with your doctor before you start taking probiotics.

This is especially important if you have any underlying health problems.

Most of the time, increasing your probiotic intake may just include eating a container of yogurt per day.

If you have persistent diarrhea due to a recurring infection, your healthcare provider may suggest that you take probiotic supplements that contain higher levels of these good bacteria.

Whatever the case is, it is always important to double-check if probiotics are right for you.

Do you take probiotics?

Have you found them helpful?

If you found this post useful, share it with someone else who is looking for the benefits of taking probiotics.

Need Home Care?

If you live in the Greater San Diego area or in Orange County, GreenTree Home Care is more than happy to help you find the professional caregivers you need for your loved one.


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January 28, 2019 Senior Nutrition0

Is all cholesterol bad for you?

What runs through your mind when you think about cholesterol?

  • Cholesterol will clog your veins
  • Cholesterol will kill you
  • Cholesterol increases the risk of a heart attack.

These are the common messages we hear when it comes to cholesterol.

But is all cholesterol bad?

In this post, we will talk about what cholesterol is, when cholesterol is good for you and how to reduce “bad” cholesterol in your blood.

Let’s dive in.

Cholesterol: The good, the bad and the ugly

First of all, what is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a biological chemical that is produced by the cells in your body.

It is produced by your cells and forms an important part of your cells called the cell membrane. The cell membrane is

It is a product of your cells that forms an important part of your cells- the cell membrane. The cell membrane is the outermost part of a cell that keeps chemicals out and allows essential chemicals in depending on the needs of your body.

Apart from its’ important role as part of cell membranes, cholesterol also serves as a precursor chemical for the formation of certain hormones, bile acid and vitamin D in the body.

Because cholesterol is a solid fat molecule, the downside of having too much cholesterol in your body is that over time, it will accumulate in blood vessels and form plaque.

This of course leads to all types of hearth disease and eventually, death. 

And this is why cholesterol has gotten a bad rap over the years.

Usually by the time the problem is recognized, it is too late.

So as you can see, cholesterol is good for you on the one hand because it helps with the formation of your cell membranes. Yet on the other, there are bad implications if you have too much of it.

So when is cholesterol good for you?

To fully understand this, it is important to discuss the kinds of cholesterol that exist.

Cholesterol can be grouped into two major categories namely low density lipoproteins (LDLs) and high density lipoproteins (HDLs).

LDLs are the bad type of cholesterol. When a doctor says your cholesterol is high, they are most likely talking about high levels of LDLs versus your HDLs which is the type of the cholesterol your body needs.

Thus your goal should be to reduce your LDLs and add in more sources of HDLs into your diet.

Scientific research suggests that HDLs act in ways to clear your body of LDLs. Thus when HDLs are high, it is good for you.

Foods that contain saturated fats such as butter, ghee, hard margarines and fatty meats are particularly high in LDLs. Reduce the amounts of these foods in your diet.

Foods that are high in HDLs include olive oil, beans, legumes, nuts, chia seeds and flax.

How to keep your cholesterol at healthy levels

Keeping your cholesterol at a healthy level starts with regular check-ups with your doctor. During these visits, it is likely that you will have blood work done.

Keeping an eye on the blood work levels is important information that will help you take decisions to reduce your risk for bad cholesterol in your blood.

You have the right to ask your doctor for the results and study them for yourself.

Don’t leave your healthcare into the hands of your doctor.

You (or if you are a caregiver) are your own best health advocate.

If those results suggest that your LDLs are high, it is then time to make the necessary changes required for reducing your cholesterol levels.

Four ways to reduce your cholesterol without medication

  1. Limit your intake of foods that are high in LDLs like we mentioned above and increasing your intake of foods high in HDLs.
  2. Exercise. Losing weight reduces the incidence of cholesterol-related problems.
  3. Eating an overall balanced diet with the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates and good fats.
  4. Quitting smoking.

So is all cholesterol bad for you? It depends on which cholesterol type you’re looking at.

Did you find this post helpful?

Share it with someone else who is looking for solutions when it comes to their health and cholesterol.

 


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Didn’t think the health of your brain was connected to heart?

Think again!

Although the heart and the brain are located in very different parts of your body and you wouldn’t think they affect each other, keeping your heart healthy can contribute to a healthy brain.

Here’s the deal: whenever your heart beats, blood is pumped out to all organs of your body: your brain included.

The blood that is carried to the different parts of your body contains oxygen and nutrients your body needs to function properly.

Just before the blood reaches the brain, there is a layer called the Blood Brain Barrier that allows for oxygen and nutrients to move into your brain cells.

Because the quality of blood that reaches your brain from your heart depends heavily on the health of your heart, it is important to keep it healthy to ensure everything keeps running smoothly.

High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can all affect the brain in a bad way.

Add in the reality that as we age, there’s an increased risk for heart-disease and heart-related problems, and this is a topic that needs to be taken seriously.

Because we take your overall health seriously, in this post, we will talk about how you can have a healthy brain by keeping a healthy heart.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension happens when the pressure of blood against the walls of a person’s blood vessels is too high.

When a person has high blood pressure, the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the brain.

Over time, this overworking of the heart leads to a weakened heart and blood vessels that are not effective at transporting blood to your brain.

When this happens, your brain is starved and unable to function at the level it needs to.

How do you keep high blood pressure at bay?

While there are drugs that can help you keep blood pressure low, eating a healthy diet with reduced salt and exercising regularly is helpful when it comes to keeping blood pressure down.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a natural product that forms a part of your cells.

It can however become dangerous when you have too much of it in your blood.

Because cholesterol is a waxy-like substance, it easily sticks to the walls of your blood vessels.

Over time, it can cause plaque- a hard substance which clogs your blood vessels.

As you can imagine, clogged blood vessels are not going to be effective at transporting blood.

How can you keep cholesterol levels low?

Eating foods low in LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the first step to getting your cholesterol under control.

Food that are high in good cholesterol (HDL) cholesterol help to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood.

These foods include:

  • Olive oil
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains
  • High-fiber foods
  • Flax
  • Chia seeds
  • Nuts

Exercising regularly, quitting smoking and eating a low carbohydrate diet can also contribute to lowering cholesterol.

Some people have naturally high levels of cholesterol because they have a hereditary condition known as familial cholesterolemia.

For such people, a doctor may recommend medications to keep cholesterol low.

Because there are no real symptoms that show you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it’s important to get consistent check-ups to make sure a doctor catches these problems during the early stages.

Keep a healthy brain by keeping your heart healthy

As we age, the risk for heart conditions goes up.

Because there is risk for memory loss and dementia with old age, it is especially important that we keep our hearts healthy so everything else is healthy.

Enjoyed this post?

Please share the news of keeping a healthy heart by keeping a healthy heart with them!


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May 30, 2018 Senior Nutrition0

Few things are more synonymous with the finer things in life than a delicious meal. If you grew up in a household where home cooked meals were a cornerstone of comfort, it can feel jarring when elderly people lose their appetite altogether.

Often changes in appetite set in slowly. Family members may not notice eating changes until there is a health consequence or drastic weight change. Changes in appetite occur throughout life as we age. Some changes are good like moving away from hotdogs and instead choosing broccoli. But, when elderly people rapidly lose weight, there may be underlying health issues that affect nutrition. Malnutrition is the elderly population is a problem. There are things you can do to help your loved one who has lost her appetite.

Visit Your Doctor

When you notice your loved one is not eating or has lost weight, it is time to schedule an appointment with your loved one’s primary care doctor. Changes in cognition or acute illness can suppress appetite and cause drastic weight loss. You doctor may be able to address these physical illnesses and get to the root of what is causing your loved one’s loss of appetite. Your loved one’s doctor may also be able to make nutrition suggestions. Your doctor can also order medical services like home health which may include the support of a nutritionist. You may also want to schedule an appointment with your loved one’s dentist. Poor fitting dentures can cause discomfort and can lead to a decrease in nutritional uptake.

Contract with a Meal Service or Home Care Provider

There are many meal services that cater specifically to the homebound senior community. Some of the meal services have free or reduced meals depending on the financial needs of your loved one. Meals are delivered regularly. Senior centers often have meal programs. These programs meet an important need because they offer nutritious meals and socialization. Some of these senior centers offer transportation services as well. So, even people who have limited transportation can participate. Home care companies like Green Tree Home Care send caregivers into the homes of clients to help with tasks like meal preparation. Depending on the wishes of the client and family caregivers can prepare home cooked meals to the clients task. Caregivers can also dine with clients to encourage eating and socialization.

Plan to Eat Together

Eating is a social event! Sometimes elderly people lose their appetite when they feel lonely or depressed. Sometimes, the simple act of sharing a meal will perk your loved one right up and bring a lackluster appetite back to normal. Arrange family and friend visits around meal times and offer to bring favorite foods. If you aren’t close by skype or call your loved one. Set a virtual lunch date or offer a gentle reminder to eat. Help get your loved one involved in groups and organizations who regularly get together to socialize and eat.

Simplify the Plate

If your loved one is suffering from dementia or cognitive decline. One noticeable symptom is a decline in appetite. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people who have dementia may experience perception changes. These changes include difficulty recognizing food and distinguishing between food and non-food items. Keep the plate orderly and limit the number of foods on a plate to reduce confusion. Do not clutter the table and give plenty time for your loved one to eat.

Make Food Easily Accessible

As people face reductions in mobility and stamina they may struggle to prepare food for consumption. This can lead to a cycle of decline. Put nutritious food within easy reach. Make sure your loved one can open bottles and heat meal. Sometimes pride and embarrassment keep people from asking for help. Instead they turn to more convenient foods that may have poor nutritional value. Grocery delivery services can ease the burden of shopping. You can help your loved one set up regular deliveries. There are also online services that deliver entire meals to the door in cooled boxes.

Wrap Up

A wide variety of physical and environmental circumstances can cause elderly people lose their appetite. Without addressing the root cause of changes in appetite elderly people are at increased risk for decline and malnutrition. You can follow these five suggestions to help your loved one get her appetite back.


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It seems we spend most of our adult life battling the bulge wishing for an easy way to lose weight. But, for some older adults, unintentional weight loss causes medical problems. According to the American Family Physician , 16-28 percent of people experiencing unintended weight loss present with no easily identifiable cause.

Elderly people lose weight for many reasons. Natural changes in the body cause reductions in bone and muscle mass. But, rapid weight loss often has a more dynamic underlying cause. Understanding how certain illnesses affect weight, eating, and nutrition will help you create a diet plan to help your loved one.

Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, advancing age is a very important risk factor for getting cancer. More than 40% of people reported unintended weight loss when diagnosed with cancer according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. While cancer is by no means the only cause of unexplained weight loss there is a strong correlation between why elderly people lose weight and cancer. Cancer takes a bite out of physic for many reasons. Cancer cells may affect metabolism and impact the immune system.

Changes to the immune system or metabolism may affect the way food is processed and supplied to the body. People with cancer sometimes report nausea, vomiting, and loss of taste. This makes eating undesirable to some cancer patients which may contribute to unintended weight loss. Depending on the systems affected by cancer, constipation, nutrient absorption, swallowing, and mechanical breakdown of food may become compromised.

If your loved one receives a diagnosis of cancer there are things you can do to help with unintended weight loss:.

Increase the amount of food your loved one gets.

Avoid heavy foods especially before treatments.

Record the foods your loved one eats and record how she feels after eating. Foods that increase nausea should be avoided.

Work with a dietician or nutritionist to create a diet plan that prevents unintended weight loss and nausea.

Dementia

Dementia is the umbrella term for a constellation of illness that present with cognitive impairment including Alzheimer’s Disease. Changes in diet and weight are hallmark indications that mental processing may be affecting eating habits. Often, people who are experiencing mild cognitive impairment undergo subtle changes in diet. If you ask a loved one with mild cognitive impairment if she is hungry, she may say no. But, if you place a plate of yummy food infront of her she will dig right in. Sometimes people with dementia lose sensitivity to sensations of hunger and fatigue and must be cued to eat.

You can help your loved one stop unintended weight loss by giving food at appropriate meal times. Do not offer food. Your loved one may not recognize the need to eat. Take into consideration your loved one’s tastes and prepare to cater to them. People who experience cognitive change may also experience personality changes. Foods that were once adored might now be abhorred.

Change food presentation. Changes in food perception affect what your loved one perceives as appetizing. Big plates of food might look abundant but can cause anxiety in someone with dementia. Some studies have shown that color plates improve overall food intake over plain white plates – you can’t eat what you can’t see.

Model eating behaviors. Dementia often interferes with a person’s ability to complete simple processes. Busy tables make distinguishing food more difficult. And, the use of a fork might become more complicated than your loved one can manage. Consider offering finger foods. To learn more about dementia specific weight loss click here!

Medications

When elderly people lose weight it is important to check with their doctor to ensure medications are not contributing to unintended weight loss. Medications have a myriad of side effects. Some medications act as appetite suppressants or affect the body’s ability to process nutrients. Interactions between medications can also affect a person’s weight. Medication side effects may also include swelling and fatigue. While these symptoms do not directly affect nutritional processes they may adversely affect a person’s ability to prepare and shop for food.

Depression Loneliness and Pain

Depression may affect your loved one’s desire to engage in activity. People who experience depression often report a decrease in appetite. Elderly people lose weight unintentionally when they feel isolated. Your loved one may experience the loss of loved ones and independence. These emotional changes sometimes contribute to declines in food interest.

Pain impacts a person’s desire to engage in meals. If your loved one experiences pain, speak to her doctor about getting it under control. She may feel more interest in food if she doesn’t ache.

If you think your loved one’s weight loss stems from depression, loneliness, or pain, consider sharing mealtimes together daily. You can also hire a caregiver to prepare meals and offer companionship.

Wrap Up

Elderly People lose weight for a variety of reasons. You will need to be patient when encouraging more food intake. Underlying health, emotional, and cognitive issues make food consumption a lower priority or less efficient. Work with your loved one to find and create appetizing foods.

 


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