How to Detect and Prevent Malnutrition in Seniors

How to Detect and Prevent Malnutrition in Seniors

As we get older, the more important good nutrition is to our health. Unfortunately, many older adults are at risk of (or are already suffering from) inadequate nutrition. Thus, it is important to what causes nutrition problems, what are their symptoms, and what steps can you take to prevent them.

Problems caused by malnutrition

Malnutrition in older adults may lead to a number of medical conditions including:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Weak immune system, which increases the risk of infections
  • Low red blood cell count (anemia)
  • Muscle weakness, which can lead to falls and fractures
  • Digestive, lung and heart problems
  • Poor skin integrity

It is particularly important for older adults who are seriously ill, those who have dementia or have lost weight to have good nutrition. These older adults are more likely to be admitted to a hospital, and are also vulnerable to post-surgical complications and other problems related to poor nutrition.

How malnutrition happens

When you think of malnutrition, you think: not enough to eat, a diet lacking in nutrients, digestion problems that come with aging. But in fact, malnutrition is caused by a combination of physical, psychological, and social factors. The MayoClinic cites the following examples:

  • Health problems. Older adults usually have health problems such as chronic illness, use of certain medications, trouble chewing due to dental problems, trouble swallowing or difficulty absorbing nutrients that may lead to loss of appetite or trouble eating. Being hospitalized may come with loss of appetite or other nutrition problems. A weakened sense of taste and smell also decreases appetite.
  • Limited income and reduced social contact. Because they are retired, some older adults may have difficulty affording groceries, especially if they’re taking expensive medications. Those who eat alone, like widows/widowers for instance, may not enjoy meals, causing them to lose interest in cooking and eating.
  • Depression. Grief, loneliness, failing health, lack of mobility and other factors may contribute to depression – causing loss of appetite among older adults.
  • Alcoholism. Alcoholism is a leading contributor to malnutrition – decreasing appetite and vital nutrients and frequently serving as a substitute for meals.
  • Restricted diets. Older adults often have dietary restrictions, including limits on salt, fat, protein and sugar. Although such diets can help manage many medical conditions, they can also be bland and unappealing.

Source: MayoClinic