Risk of malnutrition increases as you age
June 1, 2023 | View PDF
The term "malnutrition" is used when a person has an inadequate diet. This diet does not allow them to obtain the necessary nutrients for their body and organs to function properly. In older adults, malnutrition manifests itself in increased fatigue due to a lack of vitamins and minerals. The body seeks to maintain the rhythm of a healthy organism and uses energy reserves to function properly.
Due to the changes in this stage of life, older adults have different nutritional requirements. The functioning of many body systems begin to change and, therefore, nutritional needs change with them. It is important to pay attention to these adjustments and, at the same time, take into account the limitations of underlying diseases or conditions that may affect the nutritional status of an older adult.
The National Consumer Service of the Government of Chile indicates that there are elements related to aging that are directly associated with malnutrition. Among them is a lack of control in emotional states, which often leads them not to eat, as a way of protesting or calling for attention. It also points out excessive intake, as a result of anxious states or loneliness, which can also lead to poor nutrition.
In terms of physical effects, there is a decrease in the sense of taste and smell. The taste buds that are most affected are those on the front of the tongue, which differentiate between sweet and salty flavors. This can lead to a reduced desire to eat. It is important to provide older adults with healthy options to overcome these limitations.
Moreover, older adults have lower gastric acids, delayed intestinal emptying, and decreased intestinal motility. They may also suffer interference caused by the intake of several medications at the same time.
In addition, the mouth, the place where nutrition begins, undergoes multiple changes. Progressive loss of teeth can happen and with it the discomfort of using dental prostheses. These barriers cause other discomforts when eating food, such as being embarrassed to eat in front of other people and adopting a softer diet and different flavorings to supplement nutritional needs.
Signs of malnutrition
To know if we can deal with malnutrition in older adults, we must pay attention to the following symptoms. Remember, it is necessary to always have medical attention that can monitor and verify the person's health regularly.
Unintended weight loss in large percentages during the last few months.
Decrease in muscle mass that can be seen in the arms or calves.
Loss of appetite.
Loss of strength in the muscles. It can be detected when trying to pick up an object or lift something heavy.
Constant coughing and choking when eating or drinking.
Increased tiredness when getting up, walking or doing any other type of physical activity.
Diarrhea or constipation.
Dry skin and hair.
As previously mentioned, the older adult's body begins to demand the intake of certain nutrients that allow it to meet all the nutritional needs that are essential to maintain a healthy life. This is why a change of eating habits and a diet suitable for nutritional needs will be the best tool to protect older adults from malnutrition. Fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains should be included in the diet and the intake of solid fats, salt and sugars should be reduced.
Having a balanced diet with foods that are easy to chew and digest is essential for older adults. This will allow them to maintain good health and even gradually improve it for the rest of their lives. Physical exercise will also keep their bones and muscles strong and even improve their appetite. All these recommendations will prevent malnutrition in older adults and encourage healthy food choices.
This article is from the National Hispanic Council on Aging and part of an ongoing series by the Diverse Elders Coalition, examining different senior demographic groups.