Ask a Dietitian > Q&A: “My dad lives alone, is quite frail and lost weight after being in hospital for a few weeks, how do I help him regain independence in his own home?”

Q&A: “My dad lives alone, is quite frail and lost weight after being in hospital for a few weeks, how do I help him regain independence in his own home?”

March 23, 2018

For a number of reasons it’s normal for older people to lose weight when in hospital due to: 

  • Their illness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Having unfamiliar foods
  • Being unable to access food when they feel like eating.

However, once they leave hospital it does not have to stay that way.  There are many simple things you can do to help older people regain independence, stay in their  own home and continue to enjoy life.

Nutrition, exercise and remaining connected to his community are key to achieving your father’s aim to be independent and remain living in his own home.

Nutrition

Now if  your father is having problems preparing meals, some short term help with food, will help to increase his intake and to regain weight.

  • Buying pre – prepared meals and fluids that are high in protein and energy will give him a variety of foods and help him to save his limited energy for doing the key things he needs to do to stay at home.  
  • Eating smaller more frequent meals and snacks can support an older person to get more nutrition in throughout the day.   

Little & Often – Snack Ideas

  • Just adding a teaspoon of butter or cream and some jam to a pikelet/scone  will give your father another 60 calories per serve.
  • Adding some margarine and grated cheese to a cracker will add an additional 85 calories per serve.

Pre-prepared Meals

Your father may be eligible for meals on ‘Meals on Wheels’ or he could order his own home delivered chilled or frozen meals. These will support him to get enough food without getting tired with meal preparation and cooking.

It’s important to remember that meals on wheels only provide 5 out of 21 meals per week. Other meals during the day need to be fortified to support rehabilitation in those who have lost weight.

Fortified Foods

Foods fortified with protein and energy will provide the extra nutrients he needs to gain weight and build up his muscles. He can add commercially available fortified foods to boost the nutrition of other pre-prepared meals, or have them as they are!

Easy snack idea:  One 100g pottle of Pure Foods Chocolate Brownie will give him 200 calories and 8g of protein.

Exercise

A simple physiotherapy programme or community exercise classes will provide your father with the support he needs to gain confidence in his walking and return to his former state of fitness.  Find a Community Strength and Balance Programme near you. Talk with your father’s family doctor about the need for strength and balance exercises or referrals to a physiotherapist or community exercise class.

Connectedness

Being connected to his community is key to maintaining your father’s independence and will also give him opportunities to meet and eat out socially with family, friends and those he has things in common with.

In summary remaining independent requires attention to a number of issues:

  • Good nutrition
  • Maintaining good muscle strength and balance
  • Remaining connected to the community.

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