To lead a healthy and active life, humans need a broad range of nutrients in their diets. This is especially true as we age. In fact, nutrition is vital in the older population and can affect the aging process.
Research shows that the diet of many elderly individuals lacks essential nutrients. One reason may be that older individuals often have reduced appetites. Elderly individuals who are isolated or have low incomes are at risk of having poor nutrition.
Poor nutrition in the elderly can cause a number of health problems including:
- Impaired muscle function, which limits movement
- Decreased bone mass, which increases the risk of breaking a bone
- Anemia, which causes weakness, dizziness, and may even lead to heart problems
- Reduced cognitive function, which makes it harder to remember things
- Delayed recovery from injuries or illnesses, which makes it harder to get back to normal life
Malnutrition is a term used to describe a diet lacking adequate calories and protein for maintenance and growth. Common signs of malnutrition in the elderly include:
- Loss of fat
- Breathing difficulties
- Lower sex drive
- Reduced muscle mass
One way to help those who may not be getting enough nutrients in his or her diet is to consult with either a registered dietician nutritionist (RDN). These specialists can help create individual action plans to help older adults receive adequate nutrients, such as calcium, proteins, and carbohydrates. He or she may also recommend vitamins and supplements.
Many screening tools exist that assess the nutritional needs of elderly individuals. Two common tools are:
- Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST). This is a 5-step screening tool used to identify adults who are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. The tool also includes guidelines that an RDN can use to develop a nutritional care plan.
- Mini Nutrition Assessment (MNA). This tool was developed nearly 20 years ago. The tool consists of several questions that help to identify elderly patients who may be at risk for malnutrition. This test takes less than 20 minutes to complete and can help RDNs and caregivers create an effective nutrition plan.
Many older individuals are unaware that they may be having nutrition problems. Often family members or caregivers will be the ones to notice signs of malnutrition in older adults. If you suspect an older family member is malnourished, consult with a healthcare provider. A physician will likely refer you to an RDN and may also run tests to rule out other medical conditions that may be contributing to deficiency nutrition.
U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health: “Assessment and management of nutrition in older people and its importance to health” - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920201/
Nutrition is essential in the older population and can affect the aging process. Research shows the diet of many elderly individuals lacks essential nutrients. Poor nutrition in the elderly can result in a decline in muscle function, bone mass, and mortality. Learn more about nutritional counseling.