Symptoms of Malnutrition in the Elderly & What to Look Out For

Symptoms of Malnutrition in the Elderly and What to Look For

Our team at Elite Care at Home takes care of the holistic health of our senior clients. When it comes to maintaining one’s health, we need to look at their nutritional needs. Not getting the proper amount of nutrients for the body and mind to function can lead to malnutrition. Older adults experiencing malnutrition will often have an imbalance of protein, calories, and other essential vitamins and minerals that their bodies need daily. (1)

Malnutrition doesn’t just affect the elderly but can happen at any age. Older adults are impacted more by malnutrition because it can make them more susceptible to falling, decrease their recovery time, and lead to hospitalization or even death. The elderly population are more susceptible to malnutrition for several reasons. They may be experiencing loss of appetite or the ability to chew or swallow because of certain medical conditions. Increased use of prescription drugs can also lead to malnutrition. (1)

Dietary Needs of Senior Citizens

According to EatRight.org, your body’s needs change as you age, and this includes the nutrients you need to maintain good health. Seniors over 70 years of age need more calcium and vitamin D than when they were younger to maintain bone health. Adults over the age of 50 should pay attention to their vitamin B12 levels. Some seniors in this age range may lose the ability to absorb enough vitamin B12. They can get this from fortified cereal, lean meat, fish, seafood, or by taking a vitamin B12 supplement. Aging adults need adequate potassium and to limit their sodium intake. These steps can help to lower your risk of high blood pressure. Use this time as an opportunity to be creative when flavoring your food with herbs and spices instead of salt. Fats should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Consuming foods that are low in saturated fat also helps to decrease your risk of heart disease. (2)

Eating Well & Monitoring Your Health as You Get Older

Here are some ways that you can stay healthy and eat better as you age: (3)

  • Eat more nutrients instead of many calories – Making healthy food choices includes looking for foods that provide a lot of nutrients without piling on the extra calories. These food groups include bright-colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk, and cheese. Look for soy or rice milk that has added vitamin D and calcium. Some other foods packed with nutrients instead of excessive calories are seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Empty Calories – You need to avoid foods with a high-calorie count, too much sugar and little to no nutrition. These types of foods are chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol. Instead, look for alternative healthy dessert options to satiate your sweet tooth.
  • Low Cholesterol and Fat – Avoid saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats usually come from animals, and trans fats are processed fats that come in stick margarine and vegetable shortening, store-bought baked goods, fried food, and fast food.
  • Get Your Liquids – Seniors should avoid getting dehydrated. Losing your sense of thirst can be a result of old age. Older people should be aware of some medications that make it even more important to drink plenty of fluids.
  • Physical Activity – Old age and specific health conditions can cause a loss of appetite, so getting regular exercise is crucial to combat unnecessary weight gain.

Monitor and Prevent Malnutrition With Food Planning & More

As people get older, they may fall into a sedentary lifestyle, not realizing that they aren’t getting the proper amount of nutrients and vitamins in the foods they’re consuming. Having someone at home to help monitor can help you notice this kind of change. This is where good quality home care services is extremely helpful. We train our private caregivers to provide adequate home health services and observe changes in our clients’ behaviors.

Private duty caregivers or family members taking care of aging adults can take the necessary steps to monitor nutrition, look for weight loss and report risk factors of malnutrition.

Some things to consider when providing or receiving care for seniors are: (4)

  1. Help seniors check their weight at home regularly. This will help to keep track of drastic weight changes. You can also observe and note changes in how their clothes fit.

2. Pay attention to their habits and routines. Spending time with the elderly during mealtime can make it easy to spot changes in their appetite and eating habits. Mealtimes don’t have to be boring. You can spice it up by inviting others over for socializing or going out to eat.

3. It is imperative to keep track of medications. A caregiver or designated family should know the reason(s) for the drugs, dosage amounts, treatments, and any possible side effects.

4. One way to ensure that older people get adequate nutrition is to help them with meal planning and preparation. You can help them to create a well-balanced grocery list or go shopping with them. Utilizing local services, like meal deliveries, can be very helpful to make sure they are eating enough and adequately.

5. Stress the importance of regular exercise. Even light physical activity can help to jumpstart the appetite and strengthen bones and muscles.

Malnutrition Can Exacerbate Mental Health Conditions

The warning signs of malnutrition can vary depending on the individual.

Some specific signs to look for in older adults that are suffering from malnutrition are: (1)

  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Weakness and feeling tired
  • Appetite loss
  • Swelling or fluid retention
  • Eating smaller amounts of food

Some general symptoms of malnutrition that you should look out for can include: (5)

  • A loss of interest in food or drink or a lack of appetite
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression & other mental health conditions
  • Susceptibility to illness and taking a long time to recover or heal


AARP says that you should consider multiple reasons for an older person to be undernourished. In addition to the symptoms and signs above, knowing other conditions and reasons for malnutrition are also necessary. Mental health issues like anxiety and dementia or substance abuse like alcoholism can cause seniors to be malnourished. Loneliness or the mourning of a spouse or other loved one can cause a decrease in appetite or change in previous healthy habits. (6)

Consult with a Doctor

If you suspect that you or an elderly loved one may be experiencing malnutrition, one of the most critical steps that you can take is to talk with a doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are uncertain about what has caused changes in your diet, habits, and general well-being. If you are still unsure how to talk with your doctor about malnutrition, here are a few questions to help get the conservation started. (7)

  • Ask how to differentiate between the symptoms of normal aging and malnutrition.
  • Find out if it is normal for you or your loved one to be eating less at a certain age.
  • If limited income is a concern, ask your physician about inexpensive foods that provide the necessary nutrients.

Doctors are also a good starting point for available resources in your area. They can provide you with contact information or direct you to a provider of health and nutrition-based resources and programs for the elderly.

Elite Care at Home is dedicated to the overall well-being of our clients in Miami-Dade County. Our staff of personal at-home caregivers can assist you or your loved ones with healthy balanced meal planning and preparation. Our caregivers are trained to monitor changes in behavior and habits that include eating and weight management. Whether you need someone to assist an older adult with shopping, get them to social events to prevent loneliness and depression, or aid them in physical activity, we are here to serve you and ensure that you receive quality care and services. Contact us today to speak with a team member on what we can do to help you or your family maintain proper nutrition and a healthy and joyful lifestyle.

References:

WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/what-to-know-about-malnutrition-in-older-adults#1

EatRight: https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthy-aging/special-nutrient-needs-of-older-adults

Medline Plus: https://medlineplus.gov/nutritionforolderadults.html

MayoClinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/senior-health/art-20044699

Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/179316#symptoms

AARP: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/health/info-2018/prevent-malnutrition.html

FamilyDoctor: https://familydoctor.org/preventing-malnutrition-in-older-adults/