Malnutrition can increase fall risk and contribute to a number of senior health issues. According to a study from the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, disease-associated malnutrition exists among seniors worldwide, including the United States. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent it. Here’s a closer look.
What Causes Malnutrition?
Seniors with chronic health conditions are more likely to become malnourished for a number of reasons. According to the Mayo Clinic, dementia, chronic illnesses, certain medications and dental issues can all have negative impacts on an older adult’s nutrition. Additional factors include dietary restrictions, reduced incomes, loneliness, depression, and alcoholism. Other older adults can experience malnutrition due to gastrointestinal changes and other common health issues that lead to malabsorption of nutrients. Still others will simply eat less as they age — the result of other changes in their bodies, such as a decreased sense of taste and/or smell. No matter the cause, many of these seniors find that their nutritional needs are not met, and they experience disease-associated malnutrition as a result.
How Does Malnutrition Affect Seniors?
Disease-associated malnutrition can have a major impact on senior health. Lean body mass, strength, and mobility are reduced, while lethargy and unsteadiness increase. That means a senior’s fall risk increases as she becomes more malnourished. At the same time, her immune system is weakened, leaving her more susceptible to infection. Her organs can’t function as well, and wounds will take longer to heal. She’s more likely to get pressure ulcers. Her dental health could worsen. Missing out on key nutrients can even cause an aging adult to feel tired and apathetic, affecting her overall quality of life.
How Can I Prevent Malnutrition?
If you recognize the signs of malnutrition in yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. The doctor can ensure that medications and undiagnosed health issues aren’t causing any problems, and may recommend a nutritionist who can teach you how to incorporate protein, nutrients, and healthy fats into your diet.
Staying active is important to your health as well. While exercise won’t prevent malnutrition, it can help to reduce the condition’s overall impact. Low-impact exercises that use light weights or resistance bands can help you maintain muscle mass. Not only will this keep your energy levels high, but they’ll enable you to be more steady on your feet. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.
In addition, take steps to safeguard yourself against the effects of disease-associated malnutrition. A medical alert device can give you the peace of mind you need in the event of a fall or other emergency.
Disease-associated malnutrition can have a devastating effect on your health. But by taking the right steps and staying proactive, you can arm yourself against this all-too-common condition, and enhance the quality of your life.