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Get the Facts About Senior Malnutrition

Good nutrition is essential to maintaining health and well-being, but many seniors in the United States are at risk for malnutrition. In fact, senior malnutrition costs the United States $51.3 billion per year.

Senior malnutrition is caused by a variety of factors, including health, income and socialization levels. For seniors who suffer from depression, dementia, dental issues or various chronic illnesses, appetite loss can contribute to malnutrition. And, living on a limited income might discourage some seniors from buying nutrient-rich groceries. Also, reduced socialization and living alone can make eating wholesome meals harder when you are cooking for only one. To spot senior malnutrition, friends, caregivers and family members should observe eating habits and watch for unusual weight loss.

It is important to remember that we can prevent malnutrition by eating nutrient-rich foods. To help, you can consult your physician on your dietary needs and use senior nutrition programs. Chronic health conditions may be prevented, delayed or managed through these nutrition services and programs. The Administration for Community Living’s Older Americans Act congregate and home-delivered meals programs provide healthy meals in senior centers and deliver meals to homebound older adults. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and the Nutrition Services Incentive Program are also great resources. You can find local nutrition programs via the Eldercare Locator.

One way to eat nutrient-rich foods inexpensively is to check weekly circulators at the front of the grocery store to see what’s on special and plan meals accordingly. Remember that frozen produce has the same nutrient values as fresh produce and can often be found on sale. You can also use coupons on some items. To help encourage healthy eating, you can also make some meals a social event. This makes dinner a bit more enjoyable, and friends can help cook for one another. Some great ways to do this are to throw a potluck dinner party or invite family over for a picnic.

By using these tips, we can work together to help prevent malnutrition. Read on to view our infographic on senior malnutrition and share it with a friend!

Bob Blancato is the National Coordinator for the Defeat Malnutrition Today Coalition

Senior Malnutrition Infographic



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Dear White House: Nutrition is Critical Component of Healthy Aging

The 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA), to be held this summer, is a work in progress with great and promising potential. It will be the sixth Conference on Aging in history, the second one held this century, and aims to shape aging policy for the next decade.

One of the four issue areas of focus for the Conference is healthy aging. The WHCOA website says that this includes exercise, health screenings, and immunizations, as well as not smoking—in short, a greater focus on prevention. Prevention is a topic which I often discuss, though my focus is more on nutrition. I recently had the opportunity to address this at an Ohio forum hosted by the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, which was held as a lead up to the listening forum held in the area by the WHCOA. The main point I made was that good nutrition practiced throughout the lifespan can lead to healthier aging.

This summer, we also celebrate a number of anniversaries of key programs, including the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act (OAA). The OAA’s largest program focuses on nutrition and encompasses the congregate and home-delivered meals programs as well as education. It is documented that the OAA reduces food insecurity and isolation, but there is another benefit yet undocumented: how much it saves Medicare and Medicaid.

Why is resolving the nutrition issue so important? For one thing, the three major chronic diseases that impact 87 percent of seniors—diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol or some combination—can be prevented and/or managed with appropriate nutrition interventions. Overall, lack of good nutrition drives up health care costs.

And the problem is only getting worse. For example, the number of food insecure seniors has more than doubled since 2001, from 2.3 million to 5.3 million. We spend $157 billion per year overall on disease-related malnutrition in the United States; a malnourished patient’s medical costs will be 300% higher. A National Health Interview survey of 10,000 adults with chronic illness found that one in three reported being unable to afford food, medicines or both. In fact, typical medication non-adherence (not taking medications as instructed) is 50 percent. Fortunately programs like Medicare Part D help ensure seniors can access their medications, but we are not doing enough to address hunger and malnutrition.

Thus, these problems of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition and growing number of older persons affected must be addressed. Some solutions and ideas to consider: 

  • Declare food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition as domestic emergencies, which could allow greater resources to be applied to their reductions. Calculate the overall cost to government of these three.
  • Expand access to healthy foods in all federally funded nutrition programs; reduce price disparity between cheap bad food and expensive good food.
  • Add basic nutrition screening, interventions and other information into the electronic health records of the future.
  • Modernize the locations where older adults get their meals and offer related health services.
  • Expand medical nutrition therapy to include diabetes.
  • Expand Affordable Care Act Essential Health Benefits to include nutrition screening and therapy.
  • Reexamine goals of Healthy People 2020 and build in a stronger emphasis on malnutrition prevention.

In the end, the WHCOA must produce a stronger call to collective action on healthy aging and determine what individuals, families, communities, and the private sector can do to help solve this rampant problem. This is a critically important topic to address as a society which accomplishes healthy aging is stronger in all regards. I commend the WHCOA for including this as a goal, but would like to ensure that good nutrition is also a central focus.

To learn more about the WHCOA, learn more about the four focus areas, and get involved, visit the website.



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Speak Up! The White House is Listening

In February, the White House Conference on Aging kicked off the first in a series of regional forums ahead of the national conference in Washington, D.C. scheduled for later this year. The once-a-decade conference has been held since the 1960s with the main goal of improving the quality of life for older Americans. It also serves as an opportunity to discuss policy solutions to common obstacles including: healthy aging, long-term care, retirement security and elder justice.

White House, garden and fountains in foreground

White House, garden and fountains in foreground (h/t Huffington Post)

The aim of the regional events, the first of which was held in Tampa, is to give senior advocates an opportunity to highlight key policy areas that are critical to older Americans and address the most pressing challenges related to aging.

As a longtime advocate for the aging, I am truly excited for these forums. Any opportunity to generate ideas for action that improve the lives of older Americans is worthwhile. Here are some ways for you to get involved:

  • Make sure advocates in your area know what obstacles you are facing and what matters most to you as a senior. YOU may not be able to attend the forum but some advocates will be invited and can better address your issues if they are aware of your priorities and problems. 
  • Watch the forum live on webcast.
  • Stay informed as more events around the conference get scheduled. Join the mailing list to learn about listening sessions, webinars and opportunities for public engagement.
  • Check out the White House Conference on Aging website to share your own stories and speak out about programs that make your life easier.
  • Use social media to speak out on what is important to you as a senior using hashtag #SeniorsSpeakOut or #WHCOA.

The many events planned in conjunction with the White House Conference on Aging are a great opportunity to get involved, and I look forward to raising important issues surrounding aging including the importance of elder justice, nutrition, long-term care, legal services, and elder abuse prevention, as well as the importance of senior health and well-being. I encourage you to strongly voice your support and create momentum around the upcoming discussions on improving seniors’ lives.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the next White House Conference on Aging forum, which will be May 28 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Seniors are the most important voice in the fight to enhance and protect what works for them, so don’t miss an opportunity to work with your advocates to speak out!



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Protect and Preserve the Medicare Part D LIS Program

Sometimes there is a double meaning to the term “Medicare reform.” “Reform” can mean improve and strengthen or it can mean change and weaken.  One example is a proposed reform of the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) Program, also known as Extra Help. This program saves low-income beneficiaries close to $4000 per year in prescription drug costs according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The proposed reform would change and weaken the program by requiring low-income Medicare beneficiaries to pay higher copays for brand name drugs while lowering copays for generic drugs. The reform, first proposed by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), aims to drive more seniors and individuals with disabilities to use generic drugs, which in theory could lower costs to Medicare.

However, this proposed reform is flawed for a number of reasons. It fails to take into account that many patients, including those at or below the poverty level, require access to brand name drugs because their doctor has determined these medications will produce more positive health outcomes than generic medications would provide. In these instances, patients must have affordable access to brand name drugs or their health and well-being could suffer as a result.

Unfortunately, the proposal would increase cost sharing for these patients.  According to analysis by the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations (LCAO), this would deter access to needed medicines which could in turn lead to much higher Medicare costs on other types of health care services.

Further, even if this change provided some exclusion for certain therapeutic classes of drugs, the exclusion may not be broad enough to address the treatment of chronic diseases for which there are often no generic substitutes.

The LIS program must be protected and preserved. This program works to keep cost sharing low for the most vulnerable beneficiaries to ensure patients can access the treatments they need. Adding to those costs could make health care unaffordable for them. The most inappropriate way to celebrate Medicare’s 50th anniversary in 2015 would be to adopt an LIS reform proposal that increases costs for low-income people instead of maintaining its commitment to improve their quality of life.



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Small Increase in Social Security Benefits Announced, Good Thing We Have Part D

Bob Blancato-webThe Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced that Social Security benefits will only rise by 1.7 percent in 2015, or an average of $20 per beneficiary. This low cost of living adjustment, or COLA, for 2015 marks the third year in a row that Social Security beneficiaries will receive an increase of less than two percent. By law, the increases are based on inflation, and this year has seen low inflation rates.

However, many older Americans face hefty price increases not measured by the government’s inflation index—health care costs. Older adults are more likely to spend more of their income on medical care. And, some retirement health insurance programs will be hit with increased costs; federal retirees will see their premiums rise by 3.8 percent next year, more than twice the percentage increase in COLA for Social Security.

There is one notable program that will not be facing substantial increases next year: Medicare Part D. Average Part D premiums are projected to increase by only $1 for a basic plan next year to up to $32. Eighty-five percent of seniors say that Part D has an affordable monthly premium, and nearly nine out of 10 seniors are satisfied with the program. Part D, a crucial part of our health care system, is vital to continuing to provide millions of older Americans with the affordable health care they need at a quality level they deserve. Though we may not like the low COLA increase for Social Security beneficiaries, we can be pleased that Part D premiums are one place that seniors aren’t having their wallets hit.

When new issues like this pop up that impact our health and wellness, make sure to check back in with the Seniors Speak Out blog. I encourage you to explore the rest of the site as well to learn about your options during open enrollment and please share any hurdles you face in accessing health care. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.