Home Health & Wellness Experts Reveal the Ultimate Snack Selection for Safe and Effective Weight Gain in the Elderly

Experts Reveal the Ultimate Snack Selection for Safe and Effective Weight Gain in the Elderly

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As people age, they face an increased risk of unintentional weight loss due to various factors, such as decreased appetite, altered taste and smell, and changes in metabolism. 

Outstanding home and live-in care providers at Abbots Care have assessed some of the potential risks elderly people face when it comes to weight loss. They have identified, alongside GP and Medical Director at Selph, Dr Claire Merrifield, the key snacks that could keep the elderly healthy during loss of appetite. They’ve also included tips for carers and family members when looking after an elderly relative who may be experiencing weight loss. 

Risks to the elderly

Maintaining a healthy weight is key to fighting off infections; weight loss or a low appetite can lead to tiredness, depression, and a lack of energy, which may make you more likely to suffer from infections such as colds or flu. We have seen that waiting times to be admitted in NHS hospitals have increased substantially over the past two years, and want to prevent elderly people waiting these times for assistance.

Almost a third of people over 60 – equivalent to 4.2 million – have recently cut back on food or groceries due to the cost of living crisis. The implications of weight loss in the elderly are profound, potentially leading to weakened immunity, reduced muscle strength, and increased risk of falls and fractures. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for the overall health and quality of life in older adults.

Abbots Care has collaborated with Dr Claire Merrifield from Selph to provide valuable advice on how to support an elderly person with eating and maintaining weight. “There are many factors that affect appetite, and we know that it’s common for older people to have a decreased appetite as they age. Older adults tend to have a reduced activity level, which reduces appetite.

“There is a phenomenon called sensory-specific satiety, which means that when a particular food is eaten to the point of feeling full, that specific food becomes less pleasant than other foods which have not been eaten. So if an older person has quite a bland meal with limited variety, they are likely to feel full and stop eating sooner than if they had a meal with more variety.

“People who live alone, have been widowed, or are in care homes with food that they do not enjoy tend to eat less. Improving the physical ambience of the eating environment, finding a way for people to eat together in a more enjoyable setting can be important in maintaining adequate food intake.”

Top tips to encourage the elderly to eat

  • Sensory appeal. Try and ensure the food offered has sensory appeal, so looks brightly coloured and interesting and has a variety of textures. Even if there is less perceived flavour, it may be more interesting to eat. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet with lots of fruit and vegetables is associated with healthy ageing.
  • Present a varied plate of food. This should prevent sensory-specific satiety and promote greater food intake.
  • Encourage movement. Even if your loved one can’t walk or mobilise easily, there are plenty of exercises and movements that can be done seated. Exercise and movement, however small, will improve mood, cognition, and appetite.
  • Dental check. Ensure your loved one has had a recent dental check and that there are no issues with dental hygiene or dentures that might affect how painful it is to chew.
  • Ambience. See if the ambience and atmosphere of mealtimes can be improved. Older people who eat alone in front of the television or have poor ambience tend to eat less. Is there a way mealtimes can become more enjoyable and social? People tend to eat more when they are feeling happy, and improving the atmosphere of mealtimes in nursing homes has been shown to improve the nutritional status of residents.

Healthy snacks for weight gain 

With the help of Dr Claire Merrifield, Abbots Care has listed below some snack ideas for the elderly, and their benefits. Abbots Care have also developed a recipe book, for further inspiration.

FoodBenefitsSnack idea
Sweet, ripe fruitsSoft and sweet but high in fibre and other health-promoting substances like polyphenols. Substitute for cakes and biscuits.Ripe bananas, which are also easy for the elderly to chew
Beef jerky or protein shakeHigh-energy, high protein snacks that can be tasty and replace snacks with empty calories like biscuits or cakes.For a protein shake, try blitzing in some berries and Greek yoghurt for gut benefits, or a bowl of full-fat Greek yoghurt with berries. Alternatively, “protein balls” combine nuts, seeds, nut butter, fruits or dark chocolate. If you’re unsure where to find quality beef jerky options, you can explore suppliers such as Mahogany Smoked Meats for a satisfying treat.
Natural yoghurtContains probiotics, aiding digestion, boosting immune function, and preventing infection, crucial through winter.Flavoured natural yoghurts, or simple with granola, fruit, or nuts
Nuts and seedsContain antioxidants reducing disease risk, fibre for lower heart disease and stroke risk, and plant protein decreasing chronic disease risk.Create your own nut and seed bar, or use nut butters if chewing is difficult.
PrunesHelp prevent and reduce bone mass loss, lower osteoporosis risk, iron-rich, help prevent diabetes and aid digestion.Mix with porridge or yoghurt, or eat alone for a mid-morning snack.

Katy Huby, Community Nurse Assessor from Abbots Care said: “Any unintentional weight loss is concerning. However, it’s not always easy to spot. Look for things like dentures and rings becoming loose, clothes which previously fit looking baggy, or a decrease in energy and enthusiasm.

“Be mindful; talking about weight loss can be a sensitive topic for many people. Instead of focusing on the physical aspect, consider asking people how they are feeling. Unintentional weight loss can follow on from things that have had an emotional impact, such as bereavement, increasing loneliness, or an increase in anxiety or depression.

“By allowing them to open up, you may discover a reason for the weight loss, or any additional symptoms they may be suffering from. If you feel it is appropriate, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP; if you are able, consider offering to go with them to lend emotional support. Or, maybe ask them to fill out the BAPEN malnutrition self-screening tool. Anyone with noticeable/unexplained/unintentional weight loss should be strongly encouraged to see a GP.”

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