Grandmother and little girl making salad

How to Detect Malnutrition + Hunger in Older Adults

Statistics on the elderly and hunger in America are deeply troubling. Some experts report that by 2025, an estimated 9.5 million seniors will experience hunger or malnutrition, which is a 75 percent from 2005. Millions of seniors who appear healthy may in fact be malnourished and that may include your loved one.

Malnutrition is the lack of a balanced, healthy diet full of nutrients and vitamins. For seniors, malnourishment can cause:

  • A decline in physical activity and function
  • Frailty due to loss of muscle mass and fat
  • Worsening of existing medical conditions
  • A weakened immune system and increased vulnerability to disease
  • Higher mortality

  • As a caregiver, it’s critical to know the signs of malnutrition so that you can help your loved one.

    Physical problems:
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Easy bruising
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Improperly fitting dentures, causing a person to skip meals.
  • Know what medications your loved one takes.
  • How do these drugs affect appetite?
  • Food is moldy or expired.
  • Boxes of food remain unopened.
  • There are no dirty dishes or signs of eating.

  • Know the potential causes of malnutrition so that you can address them.

    Improper diet. Appetites change as adults age, causing some seniors to miss meals or eat snacks rather than dinner. This can cause chronic medical conditions to worsen.
    Solution: Invite your loved one over for dinner, help prepare meals and store some in the freezer. Help with food shopping. Buy nutritional supplements so the senior can drink extra calories and protein.

    Financial strain. Living on a limited income can cause malnutrition in seniors. Lack of money can lead some to forego meals in order to pay for heating fuel and medications.
    Solution: Ask your senior’s physician if less expensive medications are available. Seek heating assistance from a state or local energy assistance organization.

    Depression. Depression affects as many as 6 million Americans over the age of 65. It can significantly reduce a senior’s appetite.
    Solution: Work with your senior’s physician to find a mental health professional who can screen for depression and establish a treatment plan. Find a companion who can spend time with your loved one and eat at least one meal a day with him or her.

    Chronic conditions. Debilitating, long-term conditions, such as stroke and dementia, can impact a senior’s ability to shop, cook, recognize the need to eat or feed him or herself. Chewing and swallowing difficulty can interfere with the ability to eat.
    Solution: Medical intervention, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy can help your loved one return to the activities of daily life. Home health care can help them in their recovery and assist them in eating.

    Eating is a social activity and one that is essential to good health. Keep an eye on your elderly loved ones to make sure that they are eating properly and getting the nutrients they need.

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    Providing care for elderly

    A Senior’s Guide to World Hepatitis Day on 7/28

    We live in the information age and yet there is one life-threatening piece of information that many of us do not have – at least one million Baby Boomers are infected with Hepatitis C and don’t know it. In fact, health experts says that older adults are facing a crisis of “enormous proportions.”

    Hepatitis C is a silent killer. It is estimated that 80 percent of those exposed to the disease will contract it and today three-quarters of those with Hepatitis C are Baby Boomers. They are five times more likely than other adults to have the disease. Additionally men are more likely to carry the virus than women.

    It is a stealthy virus that does its work, without symptoms, inside a person’s body for decades. It slowly causing cirrhosis of the liver, before causing mild, vague symptoms that can include a decreased appetite, fatigue, nausea, muscle or joint pains, and weight loss. By the time symptoms appear, it may be too late for effective treatment. That is why on July 28th, World Hepatitis Day, it’s important for everyone to spread the word, increasing awareness of this stealthy virus and the need to be tested.

    Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and 1965 and several people used drugs will little information available on disease transmission. Hep C, as it’s known, can be contracted through drug injections, blood transfusions, hospital stays and even getting a tattoo. Today we have advanced sterilization procedures in hospitals, clinics and physicians’ offices to prevent the spread of Hep C.

    Public health experts are warning that older adults don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to being tested for Hep C. Because it is “a-symptomatic” your doctor may not know you have it, unless you have been tested. A simple blood test will tell your physician if there is any evidence of Hep C in your body.

    This is a very serious health hazard. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have launched campaigns to increase awareness of Hep C and encourage people to get tested. All older adults need testing to know if it’s time to do battle – and win – with a silent, stealthy killer in your body.

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    portrait of an elderly woman

    The Truth about Elder Abuse

    Elder abuse is one of those ugly topics many are hesitant to discuss. Stories of elder abuse are met with incredulity and horror by society and yet, it continues to occur. Elder abuse is defined as causing harm or creating a serious risk of harm, as well as the failure to meet the elder’s basic needs or protect them from harm.

    Only one in 14 abuse cases ever comes to light, mostly because the majority of abusers are family members. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed because the population is aging. Elders are increasing in number. The US Census estimates that in 35 years (the year 2050) one in five Americans will be over the age of 65. The so-called “Super Old” – those over the age of 85 – will triple by that time. That said, it’s critically important to spread awareness about elder abuse to help prevent such acts.

    The first step is recognizing elder abuse, so be sure to spot the warning signs. The most common are:

  • Changes in the senior’s personality or mood
  • Fearful or defeated behavior from the senior
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Unusual weight loss
  • A change in the senior’s hygiene
  • Significant withdrawals from the elder’s bank account
  • Suspicious changes in the elder’s official documents

  • There are a handful of common obstacles people face when reporting elder abuse. They are:

  • Many family members are not properly trained to recognize abuse
  • The elder may not report abuse for fear of retaliation or further injury
  • The elder may be isolated and have no way of reporting abuse
  • Abuse may not be obvious, as it can be physical, emotional or financial

  • Those elders who need care the most unfortunately suffer abuse the most. Close to 50 percent of people with dementia experience some kind of abuse. More than 50 percent of disabled men and women report physical or sexual abuse.

    What can be done? Hospitals and other clinical centers need to make sure that they are providing caregivers and loved ones with as much information as possible about elder abuse. It’s critical for caregivers and family members to participate in training not only in assisting the elderly with daily tasks, but in coping with the emotional pressures of being a caregiver. Always be sure to listen to seniors and intervene if you suspect elder abuse. Finally, spread awareness and educate your friends and family about how to recognize and report elder abuse.

    As the nation ages, we need to make sure we are well equipped to provide loving care and support for aging Americans.

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    Senior woman at front door

    5 Ways to Create an Age-Friendly Home

    As we age our balance, eyesight and depth perception tend to weaken, creating hazards where none may have existed before. Making sure that the home of an aging person is “age-friendly” is fairly easy and important in order to prevent falls and other accidents. There are immediate actions that you can take to make the home safer and there are longer term construction options. Here are five ways to create an age-friendly home for your elderly loved one.

    Remove clutter: Newspapers on the floor, piles of papers on counters, pens and pencils, and knitting needles, and other small items laying around the house all present a hazard to the elderly person. Clutter can cause trips and falls. Stacks of items on countertops can cause falls as well. If an elderly person starts to trip and grabs for the counter, if the papers fall so do they. It’s best to clean off surfaces as much as possible.

    Remove scatter rugs: These colorful culprits cause many falls. Elderly people tend not to pick up their feet and may shuffle. If they shuffle into a scatter rug it may cause them to fall. Remove all scatter rugs from the house.

    Improve lighting: As eyesight ages lighting needs to be brighter. Make sure that all the lamps in the house can safely take 60 watts or higher. Replace old ceiling lights with brighter, energy efficient bulbs. Make sure that the bedside lamp can be reached when the elderly person is lying down and remove all clutter between them and the lamp. The easier they can reach the lamp the more apt they are to turn it on before getting out of bed.

    Floors and entries: Bamboo and other hardwood floors are much better than carpeting. Carpeting can stop the feet suddenly causing a fall hazard. Walkers and wheelchairs function well on hardwood, not carpeting. Make every entry way a flat “zero entry” without stairs or thresholds. This includes a zero entry shower which allows the elderly person to walk in without stepping over an edge.

    Stepped counters and closet racks: If possible, it’s always helpful to install lower countertops that are easily accessed by those in wheelchairs. Closet racks should be lowered so that the elderly person does not have to reach up (potentially becoming dizzy and losing balance) and those in wheelchairs have easy access to closet racks.

    Not everyone can afford to construct new rooms or a new home with safer, more accessible features. However, everyone can make sure that fall hazards are removed from the home. It is one of the easiest and best ways to keep the elderly safe and living in their own home.

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    Music fun

    Using Music to Care for Dementia

    “Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Andersen

    That, in a phrase, is the most important thing that music can do for those suffering with dementia. It speaks to them. Sometimes it even helps the non-verbal speak through song. Scientists are discovering amazing benefits of playing music for those with dementia. In fact, dementia clinical specialists now consider music a necessity as part of treatment.

    Music has a positive emotional impact on those in any stage of dementia. For those in the early stages of the disease, music can be used to familiarize them with an activity. Music from their childhood might always be played at breakfast to signal it’s time to eat. Music from their young adult years might be played in the afternoon or evening when sun-downing begins to reduce anxiety or their need to “go home.”

    For patients in the more advanced stages of dementia, music helps to brighten their moods and engage them. Numerous studies have shown that non-verbal dementia patients will respond to music and even sing the verses. For some, it helps people express themselves verbally in single words or short sentences.

    Statistics show that more than 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia, with an estimated 15 million family members serving as caregivers. It’s estimated that 21 drugs have failed in the past 9 years, so progress on finding an effective treatment for dementia is slow going. Music can help to fill this void while we wait, and serve as a magic key to engaging, calming, and comforting dementia patients.

    Music has also been shown to have a positive physical effect for dementia patients. Scientists have shown that is lowers blood pressure and heart rate and also reduces pain and anxiety.

    Here are some ways in which you can use music as you care for your loved one:

  • Create a playlist of songs that you know are familiar to the senior you care for, including their favorite songs. What songs did your they hum, sing, dance to? What songs were popular when they were in growing up?
  • Daily sing-a-longs: Play music that is easy to sing along to. The repetitive lyrics engage the dementia patient and many non-verbal patients begin to sing the words to the song. These songs are fun and light-hearted and will help to improve the patient’s mood.
  • Comfort during agitation: Classical music is best for soothing agitation. Dementia patients frequently become agitated during certain times of day. Classical, chamber or even lullabies will help. If the agitation is best addressed by redirecting the patient, try music with lots of percussion that they tap their toes or clap their hands to.

  • “When words fail, music speaks” is something to remember as we try to brighten the days of our loved ones who are suffering from dementia.

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    Elderly womans hands

    5 Must Have Gadgets for Caregivers

    We love gadgets, don’t we? We love kitchen gadgets, automobile gadgets, and of course the gadgets of the digital age: mobile apps. Did you know that there are also gadgets to help care for an aging loved one? Here are the top five gadgets that assist caregivers:

    Audio and Video Monitors: If an elderly relative lives with you, a baby monitor and a small video camera can prevent accidents and save you worry. The AARP is spot on when they list these as the Top 2 “Must-Have Gadgets for Caregivers.”

    Audio Monitors: You can find these in almost any baby or big box store and they are quite affordable. You will be able to hear your loved one calling out to you, getting up, or in the event that they fall or scream. You can also take the monitor with you when you’re out and about!

    Video Monitors: These are easy to install as well. You can hook up the video feed to your computer or mobile phone. You can place a video camera in the bedroom and other locations where your loved one may fall, such as the kitchen or the family room.

    Floor Mat Alarm: This ingenious floor mat has an alarm that goes off when someone walks on it. If your loved one tends to get up and roam at night, or thinks they can go to the bathroom without turning on the light, this mat will let you know they are up!

    Car Door Frame Strap: Elderly people usually struggle to get in and out of cars and a car door frame strap provides leverage and balance. It’s a heavy duty strap that hooks onto the door frame of the car, with a small metal triangle on the end. Your loved one can hold on as they get in and out.

    Toilet Rails: Any time you can find a gadget that will prevent falls, consider buying it, as millions of older adults suffer injuries from falls each year. Installing rails around the toilet will provide balance and assistance in getting up and down off the toilet seat.

    Bed Bumpers: Sometimes a homemade remedy works best. If your aging loved one gets dangerously close to the edge of the bed at night, you can make your own bed bumper to prevent falls. Simply roll up a blanket and then wrap duct tape around both ends. It’s a soft and comfortable way to keep arms and legs where they belong during the night.

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    Portrait of an elderly man, comforted by his son

    Alzheimer’s Disease: 5 Communication Tips for Caregivers

    Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating illness that causes changes to the personality, thought processes, and emotions. Some of the changes that an Alzheimer’s patient experiences may present challenges in communication with caregivers, family members, friends, and loved ones. Knowing what those changes might be may help caregivers improve understanding.

    Caregivers may find that the Alzheimer’s patient:

  • Has difficulty remembering or understanding the meaning of words
  • Loses train-of-thought or has difficulty paying attention during a conversation
  • Gets distracted easily
  • Becomes overly sensitive to the tone or volume of sounds
  • Becomes frustrated easily while conversing

  • These issues with communication are caused by a loss of cognition. In addition to communication problems, seniors may have difficulty remembering how to perform complex or multi-step tasks such as cooking, getting dressed, or paying bills. She may also become overly sensitive to touch or body language and may experience other symptoms such as personality changes, hallucinations and paranoia.

    As he or she worsens, communication may become more difficult. Some tips for improving or maintaining communication might include:

  • Making direct eye contact and regaining eye contact if lost
  • Be aware of tone, loudness, and body language
  • Use gentle touch if verbal instruction is not working
  • Switch to another activity for distraction if the senior becomes frustrated
  • Continue to show caring concern
  • Openly listen and consider their concerns even if it difficult to understand
  • Be patient with lapses in communication or outbursts of irritability
  • Simplify instruction with a step-by-step explanation
  • Be willing to repeat
  • Continue to talk “normally” to them and do not revert to baby-talk
  • Don’t make an issue of memory lapse
  • Be aware that they may say something odd
  • Help them find the right words if they’re experience difficulty
  • Anticipate needs and interpret physical actions

  • Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be heartbreaking and challenging, but also rewarding. Remembering you are giving the best possible care and helping the senior to cope, even if they do not appear to appreciate your efforts.

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    Elderly lady touching her head with fingers

    A Woman’s Guide to Dementia

    Estimates show that by 2025, over 7 million people will be living with dementia. While dementia is a devastating condition for both men and women, women bear much of the burden of the disease. Because women are more likely to be directly affected by dementia, it’s important to learn about the disorder, about the impact of the disorder, and the disease itself.

    The impact of dementia on women

    The occurrence of dementia increases with age and as women typically have a longer lifespan than men, they are more likely to develop dementia. In fact, almost two-thirds of American seniors living with dementia are women.

    Women are also more likely to be the caregivers for those with dementia. Close to 63 percent of dementia caregivers are female. Many of these caregivers are unpaid and consequently bear a financial burden. Additionally, the stress and demands of caregiving for a senior with dementia can affect women’s physical and mental well being. Often, female dementia caregivers feel isolated and even depressed.

    Learning about dementia

    Dementia causes cognitive changes or changes with thought processes. This may include memory loss, difficulty with communication, inability to plan, organize, or perform complex tasks an increased risk of disorientation. It may also include movement disorders such as lack of coordination or dizziness.

    The disorder also includes psychological changes such as personality changes, inappropriate behavior, irritability, and an inability to reason. In later stages, dementia may cause paranoia, agitation, and hallucinations.

    Dementia caused by medications or other medical conditions is often reversible but most cases of dementia are unfortunately irreversible and progressive. These include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, or Lewy body dementia.

    In cases where a medication or medical disorder can be identified, changing the medication or treating the disorder may alleviate the symptoms. In the case of progressive dementia, some medication management is available but in most cases, behavioral management and full-time care will eventually be needed.

    Be cognizant of women who suffer from dementia or care for someone who suffers from dementia. It is a challenging disease to manage and those who are afflicted deserve all the support and attention possible.

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    Sad Older Woman In Empty Room with Boxes - Concept for Foreclosure, Divorce, Moving, etc.

    #IAmStigmaFree: Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

    With July named as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, it seemed fitting to discuss this accomplished author, activist, and NAMI leader who worked here in Los Angeles. Bebe was a fierce advocate who I had the great fortune of meeting before she passed away in 2006.

    She was committed to addressing the challenges that multicultural communities face in dealing with mental illness: less access to treatment, poorer quality of care, higher levels of stigma, culturally insensitive health care systems, discrimination in treatment settings, language barriers, and lower rates of health insurance.

    So here I am, writing this at the NAMI National Convention. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness and their families. In addition to my work at LivHOME, I serve as President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Westside Los Angeles affiliate.

    A mental illness, or brain disorder, is a condition that impacts a person’s thinking or mood which may affect his/her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. There is a wide spectrum of mental illnesses: Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder to name just a few. One in five adults experiences a mental health condition every year but in addition to the person directly experiencing a mental illness, family, friends and communities are also greatly impacted.

    Mental illness does not discriminate; it spares no race, gender, age, or economic status. It’s been said that when mental illness strikes, it’s like a hand grenade went off in the family.

    The good news: Recovery is possible, including a meaningful, productive life. Recovery is possible, especially with the help of a treatment team of doctors, therapists, social workers, and care managers to provide medical, social, and community support as well as address quality of life concerns.

    The bad news: Stigma and the challenges within our mental health care system are tremendous obstacles to appropriate treatment.

    Thankfully, mental health reform is currently being discussed on the national level. But stigma, defined as “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something” still exists. Stigma causes individuals with mental illness and their families to suffer silently, in shame, isolating them from the help they need to find their path to recovery. Stigma impedes recovery. That’s why I am taking NAMI’s StigmaFree Pledge:

  • Learn about mental health – educate myself and others
  • See the person not the illness – strive to listen, understand, tell my own story
  • Take action – spread the word, raise awareness, make a difference

  • Go to the NAMI website so you can take the Pledge too! And know that you don’t have to manage this alone.


    Sylvia Thompson
    LivHOME Eldercare Consultant/Care Manager
    NAMI Westside Los Angeles, President

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    Grandfather and Granddaughter

    Eliminate the Shame of Needing a Caregiver

    Most of us hope that we will remain healthy, strong, and independent until the end. As we age, however, many require an extra set of hands and can thrive with an at-home caregiver. Elders often feel shame when they can no longer meet all of their own needs independently. They feel a loss of independence and may be embarrassed that they are no longer the people they once were. Here are some tips to help your senior loved one deal with the shame of needing a caregiver!

    When possible, plan ahead

    Having a frank discussion before the need for care arises is the best way to deal changes that have to be made. Making plans for eventualities can help to prevent the shame that may accompany aging. Discuss the different stages that may occur including in-home care to deal with day-to-day needs, medical care, and assisted living arrangements.

    Check in regularly

    Shame can often prevent a senior from acknowledging their weaknesses and asking for help regarding specific tasks. They may deny the need for help and may avoid asking for assistance. This can lead to inadequate personal care, medical issues, and financial troubles if the senior is unable to manage and no one identifies the issues. Be sure to check in regularly and monitor their progress.

    Take it in stages

    In most cases, the senior’s ability to care for himself will decline over time. As a caregiver, your responsibilities will likely change over time as well. Seniors may initially need occasional assistance with household matters such as shopping and meal planning. Later they may need daily medical assistance and hygiene maintenance. Taking the assistance needs in stages may help both the caregiver and senior to adjust carefully and gradually.

    Schedule regular visits

    The elder may feel alone but does not want to be a bother. Encourage family members and friends to schedule regular visits. This may help them feel connected and that they’re still a part of their family. In-person visits will also help the family identify issues that need to be addressed.

    Use counseling if needed

    Sometimes an elder is not comfortable discussing issues with their friends or family. Contact with a counselor can help senior sort out those feelings and make the transition to his new station in life easier to adjust to.

    Growing older is easy for some people, for others it can be more difficult. Acknowledging the difficulties and taking steps to overcome them can make eldercare much easier for the senior, the caregiver, and the family.

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