Different Kind Of Weight Control Issue: Keeping Pounds On, Not Off

2008-10-18 10:04

Halloween candy, Thanksgiving turkey, holiday eggnog, cookies and cake: We're nearing the time of year that keeping one's weight under control becomes especially challenging. One group of people faces a different kind of weight management issue and it's ongoing in nature. For frail elderly with memory impairment, preventing weight loss, not gain, is key.

"What we see is that memory-impaired seniors may forget to eat or they may not be able to sit still long enough to eat a full meal," said Anne Ellett, senior vice president of health services for Silverado Senior Living, which operates 17 memory-care communities in California, Texas, Utah, and Arizona.

"They may not like the food they are being offered and are not able to express that clearly. They could be having trouble swallowing. Depression, potentially undiagnosed and untreated, could also be the reason they start losing weight."

Research points to the dangers of an underweight problem among the aged in America. A joint study by the University of California, Irvine and the University of Southern California that appeared in the May 15, 2006 American Journal of Epidemiology associated being underweight with higher mortality rates for those over 80. Study results published in the September 2006 Archives of Neurology show that the average rate of weight loss among the elderly doubles in the year before the first signs of memory impairment are detected.

Because maintaining proper weight is so important, Silverado has designed numerous methods for encouraging its residents to eat. Meals are tailored to individual preferences and food is easily available outside of scheduled dining times. The communities include country kitchens stocked with sandwiches, cookies, and cake that residents may munch on at any time. Residents are also offered foods that are easy to eat while walking, such as fruit, pieces of cheese, and small containers of pudding. Silverado staff are welcome to snack, with just one condition: they are to invite a resident to share whatever they're having.

"Besides encouraging eating, it's important to take a comprehensive look at why a frail elder is losing weight," said Ellett. "At Silverado, we don't just assume that weight loss is inevitable as part of memory impairment. We examine the entire situation, so that we look at all chronic illnesses, what medications the person is taking, whether there are issues with the ability to swallow, and what kinds of food the person has always liked. Then we design a program that meets specific dietary needs and preferences."

More than 1, 700 people have started to feed themselves again and over 2,200 have regained the ability to walk while in Silverado's care.

In addition to its memory-care communities, Silverado offers home care, care management and hospice care through its Silverado at Home and Silverado Hospice service lines in California, Texas, and Utah. Silverado is headquartered in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

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