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Malnutrition In Elderly

Malnutrition in Elderly

Many people are aware of third-world malnutrition through the sad and ghastly coverage of it by the media and humanitarian relief organizations. However, in America exists a silent and largely unnoticed group of people.

  • A recent survey revealed the estimate that "... of the independently living elderly (60 years and older) at risk of malnutrition are as high as 30%...".
  • Elderly people that live in hospices, nursing homes, or hospitals surprisingly fared little better.

Defining malnutrition, as it occurs in the elderly population, is a critical first step in addressing the problem.A dictionary defines malnutrition as "faulty or inadequate nutrition" and elderly as one "of earlier birth or greater age". In other terms, "nutritional status can be defined as "the state of health produced by the balance between requirement and intake of nutrients".

Taken together, these definitions would imply that malnutrition among the elderly is the onset of declining health among the elderly as it is brought on specifically from an unbalance of required intake of nutrients. An unbalanced diet - whether from a diet lacking nutrient rich foods or a condition where too little food is taken - can be defined as malnutrition before the physiological effects become manifest. Unfortunately, for the silent elderly, malnutrition is often not recognized until its effects are visible. In order to catch malnutrition among the elderly population, the health care provider or family member, must be keen on its causes and effects as they apply specifically to the elderly population.

There are many causes for malnutrition that pertain almost uniquely to the elderly population. In listing out the culprits, it may be helpful to divide the group into those elderly people who are independent and living alone and those who are independent but do not live alone as well as those who reside in the various echelons of health care providers that exist such as nursing homes or hospices. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those elderly who are independent and living alone fare the worst in terms of malnutrition rates. In one population study done in Australia, "... estimations of the independently living elderly (60 years and older) at risk of malnutrition are as high as 30%".

Research studies show that malnutrition does not discriminate and that elderly persons have not escaped the adverse effects of poor nutrition. In fact, cited in a recent article, malnutrition is one of the major indicators of an elderly person's diagnosis of the "failure to thrive" syndrome, which includes significant weight loss, poor nutrition, and inactivity, as well as dehydration, depression, and a lowered immune system. Poor food intake can also lead to other complications in the elderly-hypocholesterolemia and hypoalbuminemia, in particular.

Elderly persons living in poverty are especially prone to malnutrition because, similar to reasons already stated in this article, they cannot afford the proper medical care or nutritious food. Additionally, with old age comes the breakdown of body processes, impaired vision, or chronic medical diseases that increase the impact of malnutrition. For example, if an older man, living alone, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and cannot afford a caretaker, he would be less likely to remember what kinds of foods to eat, if he even remembers to eat at all. Or, even if an elderly person lives next to a grocery store or health facility, he might still experience major difficulties, such as transportation, reading labels, and buying nutrient-enriched foods.

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