Malnutrition: A Widespread Epidemic Amongst Older Americans

Malnutrition is defined as the lack of proper nutrition due to not getting enough calories and nutrients from food. It can affect anyone—both young and old, alike. In the United States, malnutrition among older Americans is a hidden epidemic because unknown to most, one out of two adults suffer from malnutrition.


Reasons for Elderly Malnutrition

The Alliance for Aging Research, a non-profit group, launched a campaign to highlight this silent epidemic and how it jeopardizes the health of older adults. The Sad thing is, it does not only happen in older people who do not have access to healthy food or those who do not have access to food per se. In fact, older adults are more likely to suffer from malnutrition because they suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer which leads to appetite loss, changes in metabolism, or the need for dietary restrictions. Moreover, as we get older, our digestive system also slows down, thus the ability of our body to absorb nutrients also decline.

elderly woman malnutrition


Another reason why older adults suffer from malnutrition is depression.  For instance, elderly people who are living in nursing homes have a higher risk for malnutrition due to depression and loneliness. Most depressed and malnourished adults get hospitalized more frequently and may require long-term care.


Malnutrition among older adults in America places an economic burden to the country. In fact, the country has to spend more than $51.3 billion each year to treat the issue. Malnutrition is very dangerous among the elderly. Without proper nutrition, it can weaken the immune system which eventually leads to massive sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue due to aging), frailty, falls, or death.


How Boomers Can Be Treated

But although malnutrition is widespread, it can be treated. Treatment of malnutrition among the elderly requires the use of logical approaches. First, the underlying cause should be addressed. Caregivers should figure out what is the reason why the elderly patient is suffering from the problem. Is it because of depression or chronic illnesses? By determining the cause, proper mitigation can be implemented.



Next, changing the diet of the elderly patient is also critical in treating malnutrition. Oral food supplements may be included in the treatment to provide the necessary nutrients for the body. Eating the right foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc. will be critical for combatting the problem. For patients who cannot ingest food, tube feeding or IV nutrition may be required.


Lastly, offering social services to the elderly living by themselves or in the hospice are also crucial in preventing malnutrition. Such services include in-house food service for hospice patients and food delivery for elderly living by themselves are vital services that can improve the well-being of the elderly.


In conclusion, proper education is imperative in helping fight off adult malnutrition.  This is necessary to break the misconception that only children suffer from this condition. There is much to be done to raise awareness about the problem among elderly Americans. Eventually, people will come to realize that malnutrition affects everyone–young and old alike.


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