There is no denying that a healthy diet is vital to our overall health. Particularly after a hospital stay, proper nutrition is incredibly important during the healing process and can often be the difference maker in preventing our loved ones from returning to the hospital in the future. A nutrient-lacking diet is the number one cause of poor health in the United States, and for seniors, health problems caused by malnourishment or lack of nutrients can be even more severe. Malnutrition contributes to higher infection rates, muscle weakness, brain fog and impaired wound healing.
When our loved ones are in need, whether that be recovering from an injury or illness, it is important to understand that the care we provide in terms of nutrition and health will provide a quicker recovery and improve their health overall.
Why is there an increased need for nutrient-dense foods after a hospital stay?
It is a well-known fact that our bodies are as healthy as the food we give it. If we deprive ourselves of fresh fruits, vegetables and high-quality protein sources and instead eat foods that are manufactured and full of preservatives (think frozen meals and fast food), our bodies are more susceptible to illness, injury and delayed recovery. A healthy diet creates a robust immune system, strong muscles and keeps our brain functioning at an optimal level. Yet, research shows that nearly half of patients who enter the hospital are at risk for malnutrition or are malnourished, which is predominantly older adults.
When we are ill or injured, our bodies begin working overtime to heal. This process requires lots of energy, and without enough calories and nutrients, this can be a very slow process. Many patients who discharge from the hospital are given medication, which can be dangerous to take on an empty stomach. It is essential that you or your loved one is eating several nutritious meals throughout the day and staying properly hydrated.
Why is this so common?
One of the most serious obstacles to proper nutrition after being discharged from a hospital is food insecurity. This is defined as a “measure of the availability of food and individuals’ ability to access it”. Reasons for food insecurity can range from financial struggles, lack of ability to prepare meals, ability to eat meals without assistance, or not being able to travel outside of the home to grocery shop or pick up meals.
When recovering from illness or injury, there is commonly a decreased desire or even an inability to cook for yourself, clean or perform daily tasks that you were able to do prior to hospital admission. In this case, it can be helpful to seek resources like a personal caregiver, a cleaning service or a meal service.
What can I do to make sure my loved ones are eating right after a hospital discharge?
Two major factors that contribute to food insecurity is social isolation and lack of support. A doctor will discuss post-discharge recovery, which often includes diet recommendations. This can be overwhelming for loved ones and their caretakers, which is why communicating with a dietician can be helpful. A Registered Dietician or Nutritionist can assist in explaining which foods must be avoided and which foods are encouraged to help you recover.
If food preparation or grocery shopping is a challenge (or even impossible), a personal-chef service like Chefs for Seniors can take the burden off of meal preparation. Unlike many meal delivery services, Chefs for Seniors is familiar and can work with a wide variety of diets (low sodium, vegetarian, low potassium, etc.) and customize meals for the individual client to fit their tastes and preferences.
Effective discharge planning is not only beneficial for the individual, but because it reduces readmission rates (and associated costs), it’s a positive for the caregiver, too. Click here to find a Chefs for Seniors location nearest you!