This article first appeared in the April 16th, 2015 issue of The Straits Times, Mind Your Body. We have summarized it briefly here.
Nearly half of old people admitted to hospital were eating poorly, The Straits Times reported on 16 April 2015. In a developed country such as Singapore, this is a surprising problem. Tan Tock Seng Hospital estimates that about 30% of the elderly general population are at risk of being malnourished.
Malnourished elderly are at risk of a range of adverse outcomes, such as infections, organ dysfunction and impaired healing. Malnutrition also delays recovery, wound healing and rehabilitation, and raises the risk of medical complications. A malnourished patient has a poorer quality of life, and is more vulnerable to falls and fractures as he or she is weaker. Vitamin deficiencies can affect muscles, bones, memory and nerves, leading to numbness.
The elderly are particularly prone to malnutrition due to the physical changes that result from ageing, as well as psycho-social problems. The lack of teeth or ill-fitting dentures can affect chewing and biting. As a result, many older adults stop eating meat and rely on soft foods like porridge.
However, the lack of teeth is an issue that can be resolved relatively easily with a visit to the dentist. There are various options for teeth replacement, including dental implants and dentures.
- Dental implants are a predictable way suitable for most people to replace missing teeth. A dental implant is a titanium screw placed into the jaw bone to replace the root of the missing tooth. The implant serves as an anchor for the new tooth. Once the bond is formed between the implant(s) and jaw bone, crowns can be firmly attached to the implant. Thereafter, the new teeth will look, feel and function just like natural teeth.
- Dentures are artificial teeth made from polymer resin materials that can be removed. Depending on the number of missing teeth, one can have partial dentures or complete dentures.
The dentist will be able to advise on the most appropriate solution.
With the physical problem of the lack of teeth resolved, one can employ tips to boost appetites of the elderly. For instance, using ingredients with a variety of colours in a dish makes it more appealing.
Early intervention is important to ensure that the elderly can enjoy their golden years.