As adults grow older, proper nutrition is often threatened by diminishing appetites and a host of factors, including ill-fitted dentures, depression and chronic disease.
A coalition of health care experts, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, recently reported that an estimated 40 percent of the nation's 2 million nursing home residents aren't getting the nutrients they need. And it is thought that about half of them were malnourished before they even arrived at the homes.
"Elderly people in all settings -- whether they're living at home or in a nursing home -- are at risk for malnutrition," says Beth Klitch, president of Survey Solutions Inc., a national nursing home consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio.
Here are some ways seniors can boost their nutrition levels:
* Ask your doctor for help in planning meals to meet your health needs.
* If cost is a factor, check with your local food bank, Social Security office, area agency on aging, senior center or church for assistance. Many programs offer no-cost or low-cost nutritious meals to seniors.
* Keep easy-to-fix foods such as fruit, yogurt, cheese, crackers, peanut butter, whole wheat bread, cereal and hearty soups in your kitchen. If cooking is difficult, you can buy frozen dinners or salad bar items from the grocery store.
* If you get full quickly, try eating six small meals a day rather than three large ones.
* If you hate cooking or don't know how to prepare meals, eat out at a senior center or a low-cost restaurant, or order in. Also consider taking a cooking class. You can meet new friends and ask for tips on fixing meals for one or two people.
* If mobility is an issue, share shopping and cooking duties with a friend or neighbor. Or ask your doctor about a home health service to help you with cooking.
* To make sure you squeeze in several meals a day, set an alarm to remind you to eat.