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A1. SENIORS CAN BE ANOREXIC
When I visited my 94-year-old mother, whom I hadn't seen since September, and who lives 500 miles away, I was shocked to see how much weight she'd lost in just those few months. And when I looked in the refrigerator I was taken aback by how little food there was, and of what there was, how small a portion of it was food my mother really liked.
We discussed it, and Mother told me that she did none of the shopping now--either her younger sister or my brother or her care giver went to the store for her -and she had little input into the kinds of food that was bought, or the frequency of its purchase. "I don't like it, so I won't eat it," she said. "And I'm not hungry anymore." So while my family thought they were doing well at filling the refrigerator, they were actually adding to her weight loss.
I did a lot of grocery shopping while I was there, and though I filled the refrigerator with food she used to enjoy--cottage cheese, olives, marmalade, fresh orange juice, lettuce, hearty soups and meat loaves--she ate little. "I've lost my taste for food," she sighed. And to add to the problem, she suffers from mild dementia, and often cannot remember if she's eaten on a given day.
So now we had several reasons Mom was losing weight:
Mother, in her prime, had been a magnificent woman==almost six feet tall, voluptuous, with blue-black hair, and skin she'd tan to an almost mahogany shade at the beach each summer. Now she'd lost almost a foot in height, weighed 85 pounds, and was malnourished, often feeling weak and unable to move comfortably around the house, therefore increasing her loss of muscle mass.
Poor nutritional status and malnutrition are common problems among persons of advancing age. Many have financial problems that prevent them from purchasing nutritious food (or they may not be physically able to get to where the food is). Often they are missing teeth needed for chewing or have poorly fitting dentures; or they may have digestive issues that make them feel full or ill after eating just a small amount. Taste buds decline in number through the years, so food "just doesn't taste right." Some drugs a senior might be taking interfere with digestion, or with absorption of nutrients from foods. The death of a spouse, loss of independence, and depression all contribute to and compound the situation.
Anorexia in the aging is different from that of younger people (these are the two groups in which it prominently occurs). According to the Carilion Clinic Center for Healthy Aging's Geriatric Assessment Clinic, in Roanoke, VA, the health problems that affect seniors can include protein-energy malnutrition, functional and cognitive decline, and acute illness. Resulting muscle weakness may contribute to debilitating falls and some debilitating illnesses, physical and mental.
Elder under-nutrition is caused in part by changes in the brain that hinder older adults’ ability to perceive hunger and adequately regulate food intake. Deterioration of the hypothalamus and other regions of the brain prevent hormones and neurotransmitters associated with hunger to transfer these feelings, so seniors may not eat as often, or as much, as they need to in order to avoid weight loss.
Nicki Rosen, a social worker, has written an interesting book addressing these problems of under-nutrition, called Anorexia Nervosa in the Elderly, (2010, Gurze Books). In it, she details other reasons seniors may reject food. Seniors may "act out" a loss of independence, isolation, undiagnosed depression, or stress related to retirement, such as having to adjust to a lower income level. (Please note that I am not trying to present an exhaustive list of causes here, but trying to give readers some ideas of what to look out for.)
According to Rosen, living environments don't seem to make much difference in people's nutrition. The same problems occur in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities as in the home. For instance, laxative overuse may be a problem for some people who live in supported communities as they might be "at home."
There are interventions that may bring about solutions to this very big problem. Psychological counseling may be more effective than dealing with the food choices seniors make, or with the weight loss itself. Medical professionals might consider reviewing prescriptions; prescribing medicines that increase appetite; addressing depression; and providing help with shopping and cooking. Further, especially for elders who are living in a communal situation, solutions may include
- Eating healthy meals that someone else prepares;
In my mother's case, it was taken out of my hands: A few weeks after I returned to my home, on Thanksgiving Day my mother fell and broke her hip--for the third time. She's currently in the hospital, waiting for a bed to open up in a rehab facility. The excellent staff knows that she needs to be cajoled into eating, and they make sure there’s an appetizing goody on each tray; they also bring her meals to the solarium sometimes, so that she can sit in the sun while she eats.
She's going to recover from this episode; her will is strong if her body isn't. She'll come home again, and we'll make a concerted effort to keep her on a good nutritional path.
For more information on anorexia in seniors, go to
For more information on Understanding Aging, see http://www.seniorresource.com/ageproc.htm
A2. IT COULD HAPPEN TO ANYONE…BE ALERT By Barbara Krueger
The phone rang, of course, at dinnertime. When I picked it up, the slightly hoarse, male voice said "Hi Grandma."
Was this my nephew Chuck? Couldn't be my only grandson since he is a mere three months' old. As a joker Chuck could call me "Grandma," since I have a new grandson. "Hi, who is this?"
But all those thoughts stopped abruptly with the caller's next line.
What was Chuck doing in Spain? He'd lost his business, couldn't make his alimony payments and, unless my sister had failed to tell me, he hadn't won the lottery.
An "Aha moment" occurred. My goodness, I read about these scams! Someone calls pretending to be a loved one and asks you to save them from being stranded in some country you may never have visited, by wiring them rescue money.
Never being one for tact and patience with unsolicited, fund-raising calls, I immediately said into the phone, "This is a scam!" And put the phone down.
"Darn," I thought after I told my husband about the call. I should have stayed on the phone and gotten the address where they wanted me to wire the money. Then I would have called the District Attorney's (DA's) office and reported the information.
Although the call may have come from Georgia, or Alaska, the fact that I was contacted in MY CITY, made it a crime that could be prosecuted by my state's DA. The DA's office could have arranged to intercept the transfer in Spain (or wherever) and arrested the scammers.
The "do-gooder" streak in me is just waiting for another scammer to call our house. This time I'll play along in the hopes of saving someone less aware of the scam from being bilked out of thousands of dollars.
Until that next call comes, the best thing I could do is reach as many people as possible with my story to let them know it can happen to anyone. Remember, and be alert.
Now, to lighten your mood, visit http://www.seniorresource.com/jokes.htm
B. DID YOU KNOW...?
1. What Goes Into Your Credit Report?
2. Walking Aids Diabetes Control
Learn more at John Hopkins Health Alerts or here http://www.seniorresource.com/health.htm#walk
C. THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH
We present here some words from those with a birthday this month.
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D. SPECIAL SURFING SITES
1. Vet Centers at Your Service
2. Flu Season is Peaking
In the United States, the flu season runs usually from fall through early spring. The peak of flu season has occurred anywhere from late November through March. The overall health impact (e.g., infections, hospitalizations, and deaths) of a flu season varies from year to year. On average, each year in the United States: 5 to 20 percent of the population get the flu Learn more about flu here. http://www.flu.gov/
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E. OH MY AGING FUNNY BONE
1. Actual Call Center Conversations!
Caller (enquiring about legal requirements while traveling in Europe): "If I register my car in France, and then take it to England, do I have to change the steering wheel to the other side of the car?"
2. For Those Who Love the Philosophy of Ambiguity...
- One nice thing about egotists: They don't talk about other people.
"Oh My Aging Funny Bone" is at: http://www.seniorresource.com/jokes.htm
SPONSOR AN ISSUE
This issue has been edited by Betsy Day (Betsyjday@aol.com).
Aging in Place