When Frank Malpartida looks at his father Jose, he sees a remarkable man. In April, 98-year-old Jose was diagnosed with conjunctive heart failure and lymphoma. Doctors didn't think he would live through the summer.
"He was in real bad shape May, June, and first part of July," said Malpartida. "He couldn't stand up. He was always eyes closed, head was always down."
To make matters worse, Jose stopped eating. His son then turned to Simone de Oliveira, a registered dietician at Miami-based United HomeCare, a Miami-based non-profit home health and community care organization that helps seniors eat better and healthier to combat elderly malnutrition.
De Oliveira said there are many reasons why people lose their appetite as they age, including social isolation.
"Eating is a social event and a lot of people won't eat by themselves. I myself might not cook if I'm alone and a person in their 80s, 90s, might just skip a meal rather than eat alone," said de Oliveira.
The dietician said as people age, they go through physiological changes, and the messages that have to reach the brain and tell people that they are hungry don't work as well. Seniors also face functional limitations and may struggle with multiple health issues.
"Seventy-seven percent of our seniors have two or more health conditions. You may have diabetes, along with hypertension, combined with the early stages of Alzheimer's, so those are layers of specific dietary restrictions and/or needs that have to be addressed at the same time," said de Oliveira.
While the process can be complicated, it's not impossible.
"There are people in their 30s and 40s who won't take my advice but there are people in their 80s and 90s who will," said de Oliveira.
With United HomeCare's help, Jose is putting on weight and becoming strong each day.
"People are very surprised and I think I attribute that to nutrition," said Malpartida.