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Aging is accompanied by a number of changes in a person’s body and mind. Therefore, the elderly are at high risk of developing health problems. Some of these problems are often related to malnutrition that can take place due to different reasons. There are three primary reasons why geriatric patients can have malnutrition but irrespective of the cause, malnutrition can and should be treated. To cope with this problem, federal government launches such programs as Nutrition Services Incentive Program that can assist the elderly in overcoming malnutrition.
Malnutrition in Geriatric Patients: Causes
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Malnutrition is a problem typical for different ages. However, the elderly are at a higher risk of developing it than general population. “Up to 55% of elderly persons who are hospitalized are malnourished [and] the vitamin and mineral intake of up to 50% of elderly institutionalized patients is less than the recommended dietary allowance” (Carl, Gallo, & Johnson, 2013, p. 29).Apart from dehydration and fluid retention, malnutrition causes vitamin B12 deficiency, which affects gastrointestinal, blood, and cardiovascular systems and leads to a range of geriatric syndromes (Chaparro & Mauricio, 2013). Moreover, malnutrition may result in accidental injuries. Due to confusion that it causes, geriatric patients are at higher risk of falls. Since the bones become more fragile with age, the elderly risk getting serious traumas when falling down. Aging patients may have malnutrition due to a number of reasons that are related to physiological, psychological, and environmental changes taking place in their lives.
Geriatric ptients go through different physiological changes that affect all systems in their bodies. Most of them start consuming less food with time due to the decreased sensation of taste, thirst, and hunger (Carl et al, 2013). In addition, older people may have oral and dental problems, such as inflammations or lack of teeth, which lead to chewing difficulties. As a result, the patients either consume insufficient amounts of food or have a monotonous diet unable to supply them with necessary nutrients. Finally, some of geriatric patients have diseases that prevent their bodies from digesting food properly or assimilating nutrients (for example, diabetes or renal failure). Malnutrition often aggravates these diseases and leads to new ones at the same time.
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Profound changes associated with health and new social status have a certain negative effect on the elderly’s psychological well-being. Most of them leave their jobs, lose their vision and hearing, and start depending on others. It often leads to isolation and depression due to which the aging patients have decreased appetite and malnutrition as a result of it (Carl et al, 2013). Tragic life events, such as losing a spouse or being abandoned by children also contribute to worsening of their psychological state.
Lastly, malnutrition is a considerable social problem. For many older people, malnutrition becomes a lifestyle (Tulchinsky & Varavikova, 2014). Due to tight budgets, many of them have a limited access to food or a poor diet, which eventually leads to illnesses. Besides, impairments and health problems make it difficult for some of them to leave homes in order to buy food, which does not leave themm other choice but surviving on scarce resources.
In this way, malnutrition can be caused by already existing illnesses and physiological problems, as well as by depression, isolation, and simply lack of food that the elderly may experience.
Overcoming Malnutrition: Nutrition Services Incentive Program
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Fortunately, the government takes care about the seniors. It initiates different programs aimed at sustaining their health and economic welfare. Nutrition programs that it administrates are quite helpful and effective. One of such programs is the Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP). It was launched in 1988 with the purpose of delivering food to the elderly population (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2014). Individuals older than 60 years can apply for assistance. The goal of the program is to make sure that the elderly get necessary nutrition. Special nutrition services deliver food to the seniors’ homes, which is quite convenient for them. The USDA is responsible for the quality of the supplied meals. The organization has official grading standards and food specifications that nutrition services are obliged to consider when purchasing and distributing products.
As far as the budget is concerned, NSIP is funded by the government. The National Council of Aging (2014) informs that about $ 150 million is spent on the NSIP annually. According to the agreement concluded between the parties, the Administration of Aging (AoA) transfers necessary funds to the Foods and Nutrition services (FNS). These funds are further used for purchasing meals and delivering them to the needy seniors. It is the government’s contribution to the welfare of vulnerable seniors.
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