Understanding the Causes of Malnutrition in Elderly

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Malnutrition prevails in over 32-72% of the elderly in Australia in residential aged care facilities. In rehabilitation and acute care, the malnutrition rates are 30-50% and 30-60%, respectively. Unfortunately, those who are 65 years old and higher are the ones most at risk of malnutrition. However, the status of the elderly community is not widely known.

What Is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a physical state of unbalanced nutrition, and it can mean undernutrition or overnutrition. If there is an imbalance in an individual’s nutrients, there is malnutrition in excess or lack of nutrients. Undernutrition includes stunting, wasting, underweight, nutrient deficiencies, and insufficiencies. On the other hand, overnutrition includes overweight and obesity. Proper screening can detect malnutrition. All of these affect a person’s quality of life.

Top Causes of Malnutrition in Elderlies

Most elderlies inside or outside a hospital experience weight loss and malnutrition. Seniors are more vulnerable to malnutrition due to many factors that influence their nutritional status. Here are the top causes that lead to malnutrition in elderlies.

Normal Age-Related Changes

Each age group has different nutritional needs. Older people need food rich in protein, energy, calcium, among others. Overall nutrition can be affected by the physical, psychological, and social changes associated with aging. Some of these regular age-related changes include the loss of muscle mass, lean body mass, sarcopenia, decreased bone density. Changes in the senses and saliva production may also affect a person’s appetite and nutrition.

Medications

Seniors experience a decline in their health because of a poor immune system. They may have pulmonary disease, hypertension, and others. Because of this, patients take medication for medical reasons to help maintain their wellbeing and may have existing dietary restrictions. Unfortunately, some medications influence the appetite of an adult. In some cases, an older adult’s ability to take in nutrients can be affected by certain types of medication. Both result in an increased risk of malnutrition.

Mental Health Conditions

Many older adults are at risk for various mental health conditions, such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. These illnesses often lead to poor nutrition, regardless of age. Patients that suffer from mental disorders may express less interest or forgetfulness in eating or even buying food.

Reduced Social Contact

Reduced social contact may bring feelings of loneliness in daily living. Moreover, the environment and the mood a patient is in influence their eating habits and their nutrition. When social contact is reduced, there are fewer social cues for eating. People living alone may also find it less pleasurable to eat and difficult to prepare meals for themselves.

Digestive Disorders and Stomach Conditions

When there is a decline in gastric acid secretion, iron and vitamin B12 absorption is limited — having digestive disorders and stomach conditions also affect the dietary intake of the elderly. Furthermore, ulcerative colitis and malabsorption syndrome result in poor nutrient assimilation, negatively affecting their overall nutritional status. It can lead to disease-related malnutrition.

Spotting the Signs of Malnutrition in Elderlies

Malnutrition in the elderly may not always be easy to spot because it can gradually happen. Its signs among older people are often mistaken as a natural part of aging. However, there are factors that one can look out for to spot malnutrition.

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Slow wound healing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of appetite

Moreover, adults can further be classified if they are undernourished or overnourished by taking their body mass index. Clinical professionals also use a screening tool to determine the clinical characteristics associated with undernutrition.

Managing Undernutrition in Elderlies

Aged Care Weekly believes that prevention is always better than the cure. While the elderly community is at high risk for undernutrition due to many factors, it is better to help them maintain their nutritional diet rather than wait to get treatment. Here are steps that carers can take to help prevent and monitor undernutrition in the long term.

  • Monitor weightwith a weekly record to help spot weight loss or gain.
  • Keep and update a medication tracker that contains the necessary information, like dosage, intake schedule, side effects, medical conditions, and other nutritional supplements.
  • Help with meal plans and preparation. The carer may even help create a shopping list to ensure that the patient is getting a proper nutritional diet.
  • Encourage regular physical activity even if it is light to help patients strengthen their bones and build muscle mass.
  • Observe eating habits and food intake. Spend mealtime with them so that they’re encouraged to enjoy their meals.

While carers can do these tasks religiously, sometimes these monitoring and prevention strategies might not always work to avoid malnutrition in the elderly. In that case, there is a need for nutritional intervention. Treating malnutrition in older groups involves making dietary changes. Moreover, a hospital or a doctor may give supplements for an added nutritional support.

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