Wound Healing and Nutrition: Opposite Sides of the Same Coin
There are many aspects that have an effect on wound healing. However, nutrition may be one of the most important components. Although it’s a basic issue, it’s sometimes ignored in the management of chronic wounds. This is particularly true with older adults who may suffer malnutrition even while living in residential facilities.
Although all people need calories to fuel their body for everyday life, it’s important to pay attention to the kind of calories being eaten. Your body uses the macronutrients and micronutrients provided in the food you eat to build cells and power life. This means that nutrition is vital to wound healing. Coupled with the knowledge that many older adults are also malnourished, it’s not surprising there are a large number of chronic wounds that require additional care to achieve closure.
What do You Need ?
One important macronutrient crucial to wound healing is protein. Large wounds often leak fluid that is full of protein. This means an older adult who may already not consume enough protein is suddenly faced with a greater deficit. Wound healing may also increase energy demands above and beyond what an older adult may use for daily activities. These calorie requirements should not be met with processed junk foods that are full of empty calories.
Nutrients fall into two categories. Macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, fats and water. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Most whole foods provide a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat along with micronutrients essential to good health. Some of the vitamins and minerals that are associated with successful wound healing include vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, copper and iron. The best way to meet the nutritional needs of an older adult is to eat a healthy diet with a variety of nutrient dense, whole foods.
It might seem quicker to take some pills, but before supplementing with more than a multivitamin, it’s important to understand that many of the micronutrients exist in your body in a delicate balance. Zinc and copper is one example. Although both are important, too much zinc and not enough copper can alter the immune system and increase the risk for an infection. Also, most older adults do not need additional iron supplementation as they often get enough from food and their body does not have an effective way of excreting excess iron.
Helping Older Adults Get Adequate Nutrition:
In some instances, malnutrition in older adults is related to poor choices. In others, it’s related to a loss of appetite. By stimulating their appetite clinicians can have a significant impact on the prevention and management of wound care.
Identify Underlying Causes:
An older adult may have ill-fitting dentures, mouth sores or cavities. A stroke, heart attack, medication or mental health issues can affect appetite and each requires a different approach.
There are health benefits associated with social interaction. Connecting with others can lower the risk of dementia and improve physical and mental health. Making mealtimes more social can entice an older adult to eat more. Sometimes simply sitting with a senior during a meal and having a positive conversation can improve appetite. Others may enjoy greater interaction with a group of people during mealtime. This is more easily accomplished in a residential facility than when an older adult is living at home independently. However, since the social aspect has such a positive and powerful effect, it’s worth the effort to help an older adult engage in social interactions during meals.
Taste and Smell
Older adults may experience dysfunction with taste and smell. Yet, much of a person’s appetite comes from how food smells. When foods are brightly colored it makes them easier to see and might stimulate the appetite. Brightly colored foods are also the most nutrient-dense, thus ensuring a greater number of vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed for wound healing. Experimenting with herbs and spices can also entice an older adult’s appetite. Steer clear of salt and sugar that may enhance flavor but does not improve health. Herbs and spices can intensify taste, make it more appealing to eat and are often packed with nutrients.
When an older adult is able, involve them as much as possible in menu choices, food preparation and gardening or shopping. This is a powerful way of maintaining interest, boosting mental health and offering flavors and foods they are more likely to eat.
Since an older adult may be less physically active, they may also be less hungry. Maintaining a regular routine for meals and activities can help boost the appetite and establish a habit of eating to support their nutritional needs.
In some instances, a person may need an appetite stimulant to ensure adequate nutrition and promote wound healing. The primary goal is to supply and encourage an older adult to eat a nutritionally balanced diet that supports their overall health and promotes wound healing.
AUTHOR BIO: Gayle Morris is a freelance writer that’s been writing on health and wellness for over ten years. She spent over 20 years as a certified nurse and nurse practitioner before hanging up her stethoscope and picking up the pen.