The 5 Major Causes for Older Individuals To Develop Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a highly dangerous condition in the aged, as it substantially decreases life expectancy. Additionally, once an older person loses weight due to malnutrition, that weight is usually not put back on again.

Since elderly people tend to become sick more easily and are absorbing their nutrients rather poorly, they are at serious risk of malnutrition.

Typical signs of malnutrition are:

– Weightloss
– Muscle wasting
– Skin bruising
– Dry skin
– Oedema
– Poor blood nutrient profile like iron deficiency, etc

In order to protect against malnutrition in the aged, there are five main causes to watch out for:

1. Health condition – Most aged people have some illnesses or their immune system is compromised. Their sicknesses may cause reduced appetite or simply no wish to eat at all. Reduced intakes naturally cause further degeneration of the immune status making them more subject to developing sicknesses. This may present a self-perpetuating cycle causing malnutrition.

2. Depression – Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease are commonly associated with mood swings and personality changes. On top of that, older individuals are commonly isolated, alone, hurting, anxious and sick making their depression worse. Depression is associated with thoughts of death or no wish to live. Typically depressed individuals also stop eating or have no desire for food, making them highly susceptible to malnutrition.

3. Dysphagia – Difficulty in swallowing is common among aged individuals. This condition is associated with neurological disorders like stroke, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Swallowing Problems can end up in aspiration or the misdirection of food, drinks, spit and gut content into the wind pipe leading to pneumonia (lung infection), dehydration and malnutrition.

4. Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)/taste disturbance – Reduced spit production is a typical result of the aging process. This condition is aggravated by prescription medications commonly given to the old. Taste disturbances regularly accompany dry mouth and that leads to reduced wish to eat as “food simply does not taste nice”.

5. Cognitive issues – Poor food recognition, not remembering to eat, food refusal or inability to open food packaging can be great barriers to sufficient nutrition.

To conclude, while there are many different reasons for malnutrition in the elderly, these five are the key ones to keep an eye out for. If you know a senior who seems to have any of these conditions, please seek medical advice.

Giselle Brand is an accredited practising dietitian and director of Aged Care Nutrition Services. She provides expert services such as aged care menu review and nutrition and hydration accreditation for aged care facilities in Australia.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.