Understanding Malnutrition and Mental Health in the Elderly

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According to clinical research studies, elderly patients are at high risk of suffering from mental illnesses. In another article, researchers discovered that one factor contributing to a decline in their mental health was malnutrition. From this research and data, we can see how the nutritional status within the elderly community can impact their well-being.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the relationship of malnutrition on the mental health of the elderly.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition is the state in which the body lacks or has too much of certain nutrients. This is caused by the body’s failure to absorb vital nutrients from certain foods because of certain diseases or a bad diet.

Symptoms of malnutrition in older adults differ from children. Age, weight, and bone porosity are also risk factors that affect malnutrition.

Mental Health in the Elderly

Mental health refers to the state of emotional, behavioural, and cognitive well-being. When the brain is in a healthy status, the mental health of a person is good. But sometimes, the brain may face health conditions or disorders that affect the mood, behaviour and thinking of a person.

Senior patients should seek psychiatry health care in case of associated illnesses. The most common types of mental illness among the elderly population are the following:

  • Clinical Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating malfunctions
  • Attention Defect Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Dementia
  • Drug addiction
  • Other forms of depression

How does nutrition affect a senior’s mental health?

Nutrition is the process of providing the body with the food or nourishment necessary for development, health and growth. While your genetics and the chemical balance of your brain affects your mental state, nutrition and diet also matters. If the elderly are not getting enough of this, it increases their risk of nutritional problems.

  • Food rich in carbohydrates creates a feeling of well being

When a senior eats foods rich in carbohydrates, they release insulin to the body. Insulin can impact the body cells by leading the entry of tryptophan to the brain, which affects neuron-transmitters thereby improving mood.

  • Protein-rich feeding is also an essential part of nutrition

The biggest part of the neuron-transmitters within the brain is made up of amino acids which are often broken down from proteins. Examples are serotonin and dopamine. The healthy balance of this improves one’s mood and gives one a sense of peace. Examples of protein-rich foods include milk, eggs, meat, and other dairy products.

  • Vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids to improve mood

Fatty acids including omega 3 lower the development of mood disturbances like depression. Minerals such as iron and zinc are good for memory, which is common in the elderly. Vitamins help with glycolysis and the respiratory chain. The lack of it causes cognitive decline.

Effects of Malnutrition on Mental Health

Healthy eating or nutritional well-being is associated with coping with stress and the management of emotions and moods. Malnutrition leads to poor health.

Some of the specific effects of poor nutrition include:

  • Food lacking in carbohydrates increase the chances of depression.
  • Food lacking in proteins are commonly associated with low moods, depression and aggressiveness, especially with senior patients.
  • Iron deficiency leads to the development of thought impairment and losing memory.

Poor nutrition has also been linked to the following psychiatry disturbances:

  • Symptoms like tiredness and poor concentration when working
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder characterised by difficulty in paying attention, impulsive behaviour and hyperactivity.
  • Immune system dysfunction from malnutrition leads to disease which will likely lead to mood disturbances and general feelings of sickness
  • Habits like drinking alcohol also lead to the risk of thought impairment which is a bad dietary habit.

Dietary Guidelines for Seniors

Before or after medical intervention, there are some diet suggestions the elders can do to ensure the proper function and state of the mind and body. However, it is always advised to seek medical help from doctors and dietitians when taking in dietary measures.

If you’re an elderly or taking care of one, here are some dietary guidelines you can do:

  • Increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables in the diet
  • Reduction of foods high in sugar and salt
  • Taking in the appropriate levels of supplements that the body needs by calculating daily energy needs, nutrient requirement and the number of servings needed

Conclusion

If your living with or a caregiver for older adults and seniors, always provide much-needed care and know their dietary restrictions. As malnutrition has contributed to mental disorders in the elderly, it is always important to seek psychiatry advice or psychological health care when symptoms occur. There may also be cases of severe symptoms such as anxiety leading to depression, abrupt weight loss and decline in thought processes. Medical help will provide analysis and a treatment plan.

Aged Care Weekly provides resources related to elderly nutrition in Australia. Visit the website or sign up for the newsletter to get updates.

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