Elderly woman with female caregiver in living room.

Risk Factors for Malnutrition in Seniors

August 18, 2021

As we age, our bodies begin to change, and so do our nutritional needs. Seniors typically need fewer calories but require more nutrient-rich foods to avoid losing muscle mass, keep bones healthy, and lower the risk of some diseases. For some seniors, though, lifestyle changes, health concerns, and cognitive decline can lead to a poor diet and a state of malnourishment. Malnourishment and unintentional weight loss can contribute to a slew of health concerns, including decreased immunity, chronic fatigue, loss of bone density, and increased risk for falls. Studies indicate that approximately 16% of Americans over sixty-five consume less than 1,000 calories per day, putting them at high risk for malnutrition.

For some seniors, malnutrition may be caused by an inability to get to the grocery store or plan healthy meals independently. However, there are many other medical, social, and phycological factors that may put your loved one at risk for malnutrition:

Medical Factors

  • Poor appetite
  • Ill-fitting dentures
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Endocrine disorders like diabetes
  • Malabsorption
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Arthritis and poor mobility

Social Factors

  • Isolation/living alone
  • Inability to shop or cook for oneself
  • Eating too many frozen dinners or too much processed food
  • Lack of knowledge about nutrition

Psychological Factors

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Bereavement

If your loved one is suffering from malnutrition, you must consult their physician to help pinpoint if any of the above factors are the root of the problem. Depending on what is plaguing your loved one, specific interventions, medicine, or lifestyle changes can help to improve their diet and health.

Otherwise, encourage healthy eating habits and a diet filled with foods that are nutrient-dense as opposed to calorie-dense, including:

  • Lean Proteins: opt for poultry, eggs, seafood, and beans instead of red meat
  • Fruits and Vegetables: choose items that are colorful and in their natural form
  • Whole Grains: oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice are ideal
  • Low-Fat Dairy: including cheese, milk, and yogurt
  • Healthy Fats: keep nuts, avocados, and extra-virgin olive oil on hand

Furthermore, as the body’s natural ability to produce specific vitamins and minerals slows down, seniors should supplement their diets with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and potassium.

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