Identifying Signs of Malnutrition in Elderly People

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Nutrition is important for overall health and well-being, particularly for seniors. Malnutrition, on the other hand, has a huge impact on the elderly’s physical and mental health as well as their ability to live a good life. Find out the symptoms of malnutrition in the elderly and how to help them avoid it.

What are the signs and symptoms of malnutrition?

Here are a few critical signs to look for to identify whether someone you care for is malnourished or at risk of malnourishment:

  • Weight loss

Malnutrition is characterised as unintended, drastic weight loss of 5% to 10% of body weight within 3 to 6 months.

  • Lack of appetite

Taste and appetite are affected by aging and certain medications. Eating less often contributes to malnutrition.

  • Low mood or depression

Food nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals are also important for brain health. Lack of nutrition can negatively impact mood, which can even lead to depression.

  • Feeling weak, tired, or dizzy

Tiredness, fatigue, and dizziness are related to nutritional deficiency. Reduced mobility may be a hint in this case.

  • Infections and delay in wound healing

To avoid and fight illnesses, our immune system needs sufficient nutrients. Recurring infections and illnesses that occur often and wounds that take a long time to heal may indicate nutrition deficiency.

  • Swollen or bleeding teeth and gums 

The condition of the teeth and gums will reveal a lot about a loved one’s nutritional and health status. Early signs of malnutrition include swollen or bleeding gums, but it may lead to permanent tooth decay if left unchecked.

  • Hair loss and brittle nails

Hair loss and dullness can be caused by a lack of nutrition, especially protein and iron deficiency. Check brushes and clothes for loose hair. Nails become dry, discoloured, and brittle if a senior lacks essential nutritional requirements.

  • Bowel habits

Chronic constipation may be related to poor food intake, insufficient fibre, or dehydration. Meanwhile, persistent diarrhea should be prevented because it reduces nutrient intake and worsens malnutrition.

Factors leading to malnutrition in older adults

In Australia, older adults and people with eating disorders, medical conditions, and low appetite are the most vulnerable to malnutrition. According to the research, up to half of the older population are either in malnourished status or at risk of malnutrition. Below are the causes of malnutrition.

  • Low food intake

Some older adults become malnourished due to a food shortage or problems in consuming or absorbing nutrients. Cancer, liver disease, illnesses that trigger nausea and difficulty eating, taking medications, and even mouth problems that make eating difficult can affect appetite.

  • Digestive disorders

Even healthy meals are not enough to prevent malnutrition if the body does not absorb nutrients efficiently due to medical conditions. Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, chronic diarrhea, and vomiting are some of the intestinal and stomach disorders that can cause this.

  • Mental health 

Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia may cause you to forget habits.

  • Social and mobility issues 

The inability to move properly can influence a person’s eating habits. Living alone or poor culinary abilities can make it difficult to prepare meals. Similarly, limited funds or inability to leave the house to buy foods can affect a low-income person’s nutrition intake.

  • Alcohol use

Excessive alcohol consumption can result in gastritis or pancreatic illnesses, making it difficult to digest food, absorb vitamins, and produce hormones that control metabolism. Since alcohol has calories, a person may also not feel hungry and have insufficient nutrients.

Prevention and treatment of malnutrition

Caregivers should keep an eye on weight loss and consider malnutrition risk factors when monitoring dietary well-being. Take note of the following:

  • Monitor weight

Assist seniors in maintaining a weekly weight log. Assist them with meal planning and preparation, as well as in preparing a shopping list.

  • Encourage physical activities

A regular workout, including light exercise, will boost the appetite while also strengthening bones and muscles.

  • Organise social events

Encourage community social events where residents can eat sumptuous meals together. You may also visit the elderly at mealtimes or invite them to your family home on occasion.

  • Promote a healthy diet

Suggest healthy alternatives to limit their supply of solid fats, sugars, alcoholic beverages, and salt. Nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean meats are the best options, but protein supplements may also contribute.

  • Communicate with the family doctor or care facility manager

Your loved one’s malnutrition can go unnoticed by the healthcare workers. Bring it up with them and devise a strategy to change their diet.

Malnutrition in the elderly can be prevented and treated using various approaches. Food barriers and catalysts must be established and tackled to assist older people in enjoying meals and the benefits it provides. Make it a habit to visit the Aged Care Weekly website for updates on senior healthcare.

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