According to Wikipedia, ‘Tea and toast syndrome’ is a form of malnutrition commonly experienced by elderly people who cannot prepare meals and tend to themselves. Their diets often dwindle to tea and toast, resulting in a deficiency of vitamins and other nutrients. The syndrome often manifests itself as hyponatremia, a low concentration of the electrolyte sodium in the bloodstream due to the lack of salt in the diet.

Wow, are you surprised to hear this is a real thing? It sure was the first time I heard it. But it makes sense. I can remember going to visit my grandmother as a kid. She lived alone since grandpa died in a tiny apartment in a nice neighborhood in North Vancouver. Often, we would arrive, and the meal she was having was a cup of tea and toast. Then, hmmm, my mom would get busy in her, also a tiny kitchen to put away groceries we had brought over and drum up something a bit more substantial for us all to enjoy. 

As our parent or loved-one ages, it’s not uncommon for them to eat smaller amounts because they are less active and require fewer calories. However, they still need to eat nutritious meals to prevent vitamin deficiency and malnutrition, leading to serious and life-threatening conditions.

You or an aging parent may be happy and satisfied with a cup of tea and a piece of toast or some cheese and crackers, but the body requires protein, vitamins, minerals, and salts to stay healthy. And because the body absorbs fewer nutrients as we age (this is a fact), seniors need to eat a nutritious diet. 

It’s important to be aware of this trend, especially if our loved one doesn’t live near us, as it’s easy for them to pretend all is well and that they are eating fine.  

The key here is that tea and toast syndrome can be caused by a combination of physical, social, and psychological issues. So keep an eye out for things such as:

Loss of taste and smell: The senses diminish with age, especially the sense of smell. 

Medications: Some meds can affect your ability to taste and smell, decrease your appetite and ability to absorb nutrients, or cause the body to lose nutrients.

Dental problems: Bad teeth or ill-fitting dentures may cause difficulty chewing and swallowing food.

Health problems: A chronic illness or other health concern can make it difficult to eat or cause a lack of appetite. 

Memory problems: A decline in mental functioning can affect a person’s ability to shop, prepare meals and keep track of how much they eat. 

Lack of social contact: Older adults who eat alone may not enjoy mealtime and lose interest in cooking and eating. 

Disability: Seniors with a physical disability may not be able to shop or cook easily.

Depression: Grief, loneliness, failing health, lack of mobility, and other factors can contribute to depression and cause a loss of appetite.

Alcoholism: Drinking too much can affect digestion and the absorption of nutrients, and decrease appetite.

It is never too early to help your aging parent or loved one, and it is so important to be aware of the signs that they may need help even though they don’t ask or deny needing any support.  

Ravina 💜

Posted July 15, 2021

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About the author 

Ravina Chandra

After completing my Nursing degree and launching into my career, I soon discovered that ‘Preventative Health’ is what saves us from the pain and suffering that accompanies illness and premature aging.

I now assist older adults in finding balance in mind & body, and mentoring them to align with their core values, their loves, their hopes, and their dreams. I look forward to our time together.

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