6 Signs That Can Indicate Malnutrition In The Elderly
Malnutrition is a common ailment among the elderly; here are six warning signs to look out for.
While it often develops in senior citizens, malnutrition can remain undiagnosed for a long time, often presenting itself in overlooked symptoms. Caused when the body does not get the ideal amount of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, etc., that it requires to maintain optimal health, malnutrition leads to problems across all organs, leaving the elderly particularly vulnerable to this. There is a growing incidence of malnutrition cases among the elderly, and this has been attributed to side effects from medication, difficulty chewing and/or swallowing, lack of social settings, memory problems, change in taste and/or smell, and various other factors.
The impact of malnutrition is widespread:
It leads to reduced muscle strength, and while one naturally loses muscle mass due to ageing, this is worsened by malnutrition. A loss of mobility can make it difficult to participate in daily activities, and could increase the risk of falling.
As the body is deprived of nutrients, the immune system is immediately impaired, which means it can’t fight infections and speed up recovery.
Organs are directly impacted too, as they depend on nutrients and minerals to function, and any deficiency can be harmful. Nutrition also plays a role in mental health, and so malnourishment can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The signs of malnutrition often get tagged as regular signs of ageing, making it difficult to intervene early on. Here are some signs to keep an eye out for:
- Reduced Appetite
Your loved one may be showing a disinterest in food and there is a noticeable reduction in the amount of food being consumed by them.
Since the body needs nutrition for energy, a natural result of malnutrition is fatigue and lethargy. If one’s diet is lacking in certain specific minerals and vitamins, like iron for example, this can also lead to fatigue.
- Weight Loss
Keep an eye out for rapid weight loss over a short period of time: research shows that unintentionally losing between 5-10 percent of weight over three to six months can be a sign of malnutrition. This can also be seen in clothes or jewellery becoming loose.
- Mood Change
Again, if one isn’t getting energy and nutrients, it can lead to unexplained mood swings or apathy and irritability.
Harder to spot, look for signs of weakness in daily activities. This can be a weakening of grip strength when holding something, or getting out of breath faster.
- Increased Recovery Time
As mentioned before, the body fuels recovery from nutrition, and if those vital nutrients and minerals are absent, it will lead to wounds taking longer to heal, or a longer infection period. Some deficiencies also lead to topical problems like inflammation and ulcers around the mouth, or weak and brittle hair. Malnutrition can also lead to chronic diarrhoea, which is a sign that the body isn’t fully absorbing nutrients.
These are just a few signs that could indicate malnutrition, but if you feel like your loved one has been showing symptoms, it’s important to consult a healthcare practitioner as soon as possible. They will then conduct whatever tests are required, and direct the way forward. In order to encourage healthy nutrition at home, the following can be done: Include more high energy and high protein foods in your loved one’s diet; help them understand the importance of eating regular, but not large, meals throughout the day; stay adequately hydrated; keep a stock of food ready, it can be frozen so that your loved one can then access it easily later.
At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.
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