Malnutrition happens when a person doesn’t get the proper nutrients needed to function. Usually, this involves having an imbalance of calories, protein, and other critical vitamins your body needs each day.

While malnutrition can be harmful at any age, elderly malnutrition is more serious. When an older adult isn’t getting enough nutrients and vitamins, it increases the risk of injury from falls and slower recovery times. Additionally, a malnourished older person is more likely to get hospitalized, have repeat hospitalizations, or die from complications of being malnourished.

Elder malnutrition has various causes, including being unable to chew and swallow, appetite loss, and increased medication use. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, lack of access to nutritious food, and chronic conditions can also factor in.

Related: Nutrition is Key for Well-Being

What Are the Signs of Elderly Malnutrition?

There are several signs of elderly malnutrition you can spot, and they vary from person to person. Additionally, their severity can fluctuate, and this can make them more challenging to pinpoint, but some common signs include:

  • Bone pain or increased risk of fractures
  • Brittle nails that break easily
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Cognitive decline or confusion
  • Decreased appetite or interest in food
  • Dental problems or tooth decay
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Easy bruising
  • Edema
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Pale or dry skin
  • Persistent coldness (especially in extremities)
  • Poor wound healing
  • Reduced immunity
  • Swollen or bloated abdomen
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Vision changes
  • Weakness

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Elderly woman down

What Factors Influence Elderly Malnutrition? 

While the leading causes of malnutrition are usually not eating enough or choosing to eat foods that lack the necessary nutrients, there are several social, physical, and psychological factors at play, including: 

  • Changes With Age – When you get older, it’s common to experience a loss in the ability to taste and smell, making it hard to enjoy food.
  • Illness – Any older adult with inflammation and disease-related complications can change how the body processes nutrients.
  • Inability to Eat – Difficulty chewing or swallowing, challenges handling utensils, or poor dental health can factor into elderly malnutrition.
  • Medications – Certain medications can impact the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. 
  • Mental Status Changes – Behavioral or memory problems from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can make it easy to forget to buy groceries or eat.
  • Restricted Diet – Managing medical conditions through dietary restrictions can make it hard to eat enough without using nutritional supplements like Thrive Ice Cream.

Related: The Case for Fiber

What Problems Does Elderly Malnutrition Cause?

Older adults can experience many problems due to malnutrition, but some stand out more than others. A few very common issues include:

Reduced Immune Function

When someone doesn’t get enough vitamins and nutrients, their immune system can weaken. When this happens, the body is less effective at fighting off infections, making it easier to get sick. As a result, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and sepsis can be far more common and have more severe consequences in a malnourished person than in someone who gets all the essential vitamins and nutrients daily.

Increased Fall Risks

Malnutrition can lead to generalized weakness and muscle wasting, negatively impacting balance and stability. In turn, the elderly are at a higher risk for falls, which can result in severe injuries like hip fractures.

Slower Wound Healing

Having good nutrition is critical to helping your body repair itself. When an older adult is malnourished, they tend to have slower wound healing rates. This increases the risks of contracting an infection like sepsis or complications and also makes injury recovery slower.

Cognitive Decline

Nutrition plays a massive role in overall brain health, so inadequate nutrition can increase cognitive decline in older adults. This can present as difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, or a faster progression of conditions like Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Reduced Quality of Life

Finally, malnutrition impacts the person’s energy levels and overall well-being. For an older person, this can reduce their ability to participate in social interactions or daily activities. The combination of mental, physical, and emotional strains malnutrition can introduce can reduce their quality of life.

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Seniors eating a nutritional dish

How to Reduce Elderly Malnutrition

One of the biggest things you can do to improve elderly malnutrition is to get mealtime strategies to help them get and keep a healthy diet. Good eating habits should include:

  • Eating Nutrient-Rich Foods – Set up a meal plan consisting of various foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and lean meats.
  • Healthy Snacks – Buy nutrient-rich healthy snacks that the older person can grab and eat between meals, like fruits, vegetables, or low-fat dairy products like yogurt.
  • Nutritional Supplements – To increase the calories one eats daily, add dietary supplements like Thrive Gelato or Ice Cream to increase the protein intake without adding saturated fats. They’re small, easy to eat, and have a sweet taste to satisfy sugar cravings.
  • Spices and Herbs – Get the person excited about eating by adding flavor to their meals by seasoning them with herbs and spices.

When to Involve a Doctor

Ideally, you’ll talk to a doctor about your concerns with changes in weight, appetite, or any health and nutrition issues. A doctor can monitor weight, assess any medical conditions that may cause a loss of appetite, treat underlying conditions, change medications, change dietary restrictions, or help choose a nutritional supplement like Thrive Gelato to add the missing nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and proteins back into your diet to keep you healthy.
Related: Benefits of Thrive Fortified Ice Cream


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