Senior Malnutrition Has Common-Sense Fix


Seniors need to remember to eat three good, square meals every day to maintain healthy nutrition. That is the first, best thing older people can do for themselves, said Terrie Sue Townsend, the new dietary services director at Payson Regional Medical Center.

Townsend joined the staff in June and has spent her first six or so weeks on the job getting familiar with the hospital.


Terrie Sue Townsend is the new dietary services director for Payson Regional Medical Center. She was the guest speaker at the Senior Circle's Lunch and Learn program Aug. 21.

This week she is "on the road" with a special presentation at the PRMC Senior Circle as the featured speaker at the Aug. 21 "Lunch & Learn" program. She said she planned to build her presentation around a paper "Graying of America" that she prepared in 2004.

Townsend said the "old elderly" is the fastest growing population segment and a variety of factors contribute to their nutritional problems.

Medications often cause changes in taste and smell, as well as a diminished appetite. There is also frequently an altered sense of thirst she said. Stomach problems and difficulties with teeth also are things that can lead to malnutrition.

"As we age our nutrient requirements change," she said. The "old elderly" need more protein in their diets. Townsend said protein malnutrition is what she sees most frequently in the elderly population she deals with.

She said all foods fit into a healthful diet, but they should be eaten in combination with one another and in appropriate portions.

"No one, but especially the elderly, should be eating just one food at a meal or just one meal a day. No single food ensures or harms health," Townsend said.

She said zinc helps with taste sensation with the elderly who are anorexic.

On the other side of the equation, too many calories and an inactive lifestyle contribute to obesity.

"Waist change is more important that weight change," Townsend said.

The common sense approach to eating is the best thing anyone can do, Townsend said.

The best guide is the "My Pyramid" program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which can be found at

Another good source of information about well-rounded and cost-effective meals are extension services, she said. Arizona's extension service is through the University of Arizona, for more information, call (928) 474-4160.

To have a personal consultation with Townsend, you need to have a referral from your primary care provider and make an appointment through PRMC's central scheduling office.

Townsend has been a registered dietician for 30 years and spent most of those years in Wisconsin. She came to Payson from the small community of Grantsburg, Wis.

She said she was led into the profession because she has always had an interest in cooking and nutrition. At one point, she thought she would be a chef.

"Then I decided I didn't want to be anyone's servant."

A single parent, she raised two sons, one who resides in the Valley, the other is still in Wisconsin.

While in Wisconsin, she worked at a small hospital, in Public Health Services and consulting a group of nursing homes. Her public health work took her around the state to help Indian tribes establish nutritional services programs.

When not on the job, Townsend enjoys outdoor sports; she skis, hikes and swims. She also enjoys painting and drawing and is a poet.

She said she has taken advantage of the pool at Rumsey Park just about every day she has been in town and she has joined the Payson Art League, but don't expect to see her work in the upcoming fall show.

"My artwork is for gifts, not shows," she said.

She has also joined the Trail Trekkers and the Payson Choral Society.

"I absolutely love being in Payson. The people are so wonderfully and really genuine. When they stop to say hello, they actually want to engage you in conversation. It's life the way it should be, where people are sincerely interested in you."

Townsend said there has not been a single day she has been homesick for Wisconsin or felt blue. "Every day I've been here, I have been happy."

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