Although the best option for promoting weight gain in elderly patients is to encourage frequent consumption of meals and snacks, nutritional supplements are sometimes necessary. Commercially-produced or homemade oral supplements and shakes can be used as long as they boost calories, protein and other nutrients recommended by a physician or dietitian. When older people can't maintain their weight with a normal diet or if they are unable to eat food safely, they might benefit from using a nutritional supplement to gain back the weight that they have lost.
When a Supplement is Needed
A doctor or registered dietitian can decide if nutritional supplements are necessary, using body-mass index and an assessment of how much weight has been lost to set a specific weight-gain goal. Nutritional intervention may be necessary if the BMI is lower than 18.5, if weight loss has exceeded 10 percent of body weight in the last three to six months, or if BMI is less than 20 and weight loss has exceeded 5 percent.
Research Supporting Supplementation
A review of 62 trials on nutritional supplement use in the elderly was published by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2009. After reviewing the 62 trials, the authors of the review concluded that current research suggests that nutrition supplementation in older people does promote weight gain. The study also concluded that nutrition supplementation in undernourished elderly people may reduce mortality.
Challenges with Supplement Consumption
According to the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, older people may refuse oral nutrition supplements because the supplements taste terrible, are expensive and may cause side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea. ESPEN suggests using different flavors, textures, and temperatures of nutrition supplements to help older patients take supplements. Encouragement from family, friends or care support staff and providing the nutrition supplements between mealtimes can also help patients meet their nutritional needs.
Taking Supplements Properly
To meet the BMI or weight gain goal set by a health care practitioner, nutritional supplements must be taken properly. Oral nutrition supplements are intended to be used in addition to normal food diet, not as a meal replacement. Nutrition supplements should be taken between meals, rather than with meals, to encourage full intake. Follow your health care practitioner's instructions when taking a nutrition supplement to gain weight.