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Elderly Malnutrition

by Deah on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 1:19 PM

I often think that if my parents would have paid attention to good nutrition, they would not be in the failing health they experience now. Could they be suffering the effects of malnutrition? Enough cannot be said about good nutrition, especially as we age. It plays such an important role in successful aging. Malnutrition develops when the body does not get the right amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.

As we age, we should be choosing foods high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. This would include meat, fish, milk, eggs, bread, cereals, and plenty of fruit and vegetables. These foods give your body energy, repair tissues and regulate bodily functions. Malnutrition among the elderly is not as uncommon as one might think. The Alliance for Aging Research website states malnutrition can affect anyone, and as many as one in two older adults are at risk.

Some reasons older adults are at a higher risk for malnutrition are:

  • mobility and/or disability problems
  • reduced appetite or changes in taste
  • chronic medical conditions
  • chewing & dental difficulties
  • medication side effects
  • social isolation
  • diminished sense of smell and taste
  • low income
  • alcoholism
  • depression

Malnutrition can cause problems such as:

  • weak immune system, increasing the risk of infections
  • delayed wound healing, impairs the body’s ability to heal
  • muscle weakness,increasing the risk of falls
  • impaired respiratory function
  • depression
  • decrease in appetite, only complicating the issue further

As we age our bodies have different nutritional needs, so certain nutrients become important for good health.Some examples are:

  • Vitamin D and calcium- Older adults need more calcium and vitamin D to help maintain bone health.
  • Vitamin B12- Many people older than 50 do not get enough vitamin B12 as our bodies do not absorb it as well. B12 keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, as well as prevents a type of anemia that makes people weak and tired. A deficiency may cause confusion, agitation or hallucinations.
  • Fiber- Eating more fiber keeps us regular, an issue with most elderly, by promoting healthy digestion. Fiber protects against heart disease, helps control weight, and prevent Type 2 diabetes.
  • Iron- the most important mineral found in red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. A lower oxygen level can cause tiredness and lethargy.
  • Fluids-Water is crucial for good health. With aging our bodies’ mechanisms for water balance are changing. Dehydration is very common among older adults and can result in drowsiness and confusion, low blood pressure, heat injuries, urinary and kidney problems, dizziness and / or seizures.
  • Potassium- increasing potassium consumption along with reducing our sodium intake may lower your risk of high blood pressure.

Check out AARP’s page, Vitamins From A to Z, to help you learn more about vitamins, minerals, and supplements. Not everyone who is malnourished is thin, therefore many in geriatric care feel that a reliable nutritional screening tool is necessary and should be part of regular screenings. Check out this nutritional screening and assessment tool that can identify geriatric patients age 65 and older who are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. Be sure to consult your physician if you have concerns regarding malnutrition. You can check out what a healthy plate looks like by visiting MyPlate and read about making smart food choices.


“Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.” ~Josh Billings

Blogs Parent Separator Deah Bowes
nutritional deficiency

Tips and ideas to help care for a senior loved one at home.


Lori Paterno, M.Ed. Has a Masters Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling From Penn State University.  She has over 20 years professional experience in Human Services, Counseling, and Education.

Lori Paterno, M.Ed. Has a Masters Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling From Penn State University.  She has over 20 years professional experience in Human Services, Counseling, and Education. 
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