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10 Ways Malnutrition Can Impact Your Health—and 6 Steps to Prevent It

Jan 05, 2017

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Key Takeaways

  • Learn how to spot the symptoms and risk factors of malnutrition and the steps you can take to help prevent it.
  • Older adults and caregivers should be aware of what causes malnutrition, how to monitor nutrition status, and actively advocate for optimal care.
  • Print NCOA’s placemat that includes key facts about malnutrition in older adults. Download, reproduce, and share during meals programs.

Good nutrition is vital at every stage of life, but as you age, staying well-nourished is even more important!

Sept. 18-22 is Malnutrition Awareness Week™, sponsored by our partners at ASPEN. We encourage you to read and share the following 10 ways malnutrition can affect your body as you age—and take our 6 tips to prevent it.

Muscle and Bones

Your body naturally loses muscle and bone as you age; however, malnutrition can accelerate these losses and impact your independence and ability to be active.

1. MOBILITY: Weak muscles and bones can make it harder to do everyday tasks like walking, dressing, and bathing. Regular physical activity and a diet high in protein, calcium, and vitamin D are critical to help you maintain and rebuild muscle and bone.

2. POSTURE: Muscles and bones are needed to help keep you upright. If they are weak, you may strain your neck, back, and shoulder muscles, causing you to feel pain.

3. STRENGTH: Poor muscle strength may make it more difficult to do your favorite activities.

4. FALLS: Bone and joint problems are major risk factors for falls—the leading cause of death and injury among older adults.

Immune System and Healing

When your body lacks nutrition, your white blood cell count can decrease, making it harder for your body to heal and fight illnesses.

5. HEALING: Your body’s nutrition influences your recovery, since wounds need energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals to heal.

6. CANCER: If you are malnourished, it is more difficult to tolerate chemotherapy.

7. ILLNESS: A poor immune system can increase your risk for illnesses and infections.

Organs

Not having enough protein and other nutrients can harm your organs.

8. EYES: Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can accelerate vision loss caused by glaucoma, cataracts, and/or macular degeneration.

9. BRAIN: Nutrient deficiencies may speed up the rate at which your brain loses neurons, which can impair your speech, coordination, and memory.

10. KIDNEYS: A deficiency of fluids and electrolytes can cause your kidneys to overwork and affect their ability to function. This can lead to dehydration, joint pain, and heart issues.

6 Steps to Prevent Malnutrition in Older Adults

The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to stay well-nourished. Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Understand what malnutrition is and isn’t. Malnourished individuals come in all sizes and can even be obese. Learn five important facts about malnutrition in older adults.
  2. Make smart food choices. Learn how to eat well after 50, including how to make a well-balanced plate, identify foods highest in key nutrients like protein, and more.
  3. Try an oral nutritional supplement. Supplements have protein, calories, and vital nutrients that can help provide complete and balanced nutrition for individuals at any stage of life.
  4. Take care of your teeth. Poor oral health can lead to gum disease and other dental problems that may limit your ability to eat well or eat certain foods that are vital for good nutrition.
  5. Consult your health care provider. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing unintentional weight loss, poor appetite, difficulty chewing or swallowing, problems with ill-fitting dentures, or other problems that affect eating.
  6. Find help. If it’s difficult for you to drive, prepare, or purchase food, enlist a friend or family member to help or contact Meals on Wheels to see if you can get home-delivered meals. If you need help paying for groceries, try applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Millions of older adults use SNAP to supplement their monthly food budget.

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