Nutrition for the Older Adult: Preventing Malnutrition By Jennifer Fischer

First let's see what we know:

Women are at a much greater risk of developing osteoporosis, one way to prevent this is through lifestyle changes, or diet by intaking more calcium. What are some foods that are high in calcium?

  1. Chicken and carrots
  2. Milk, almonds, broccoli
  3. Pork and squash
  4. Gelatin-based products and oranges

And the correct answer is...


What are some potential risk factors for developing malnutrition?

  1. Reduced income, depression, and medications
  2. Weekly family dinners and living with your spouse
  3. Performing daily moderate exercise and having a history of diabetes
  4. Living near a grocery store and rarely eating out at restaurants

And the correct answer is...


General Information:

In the coming years the expected number of older adults throughout the world will double. This is in part due to improvements that have been made in the health care system. Nutrition is a very important part of aspect of ones healthcare. Recent studies done have drawn strong links between good nutrition and the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases that can develop later in life. This has strong implications for the older adult population because these studies have also shown that many of them do not reach an optimal nutrition level. 19% of men and about 21% of women ages 75 and older are obese. This goes hand in hand with the statistic that 90% of Americans eating more than the recommended sodium intake. On the other hand, 1 in every 3 older adults upon admission to the hospital is found to be malnurished.

What is Malnutrition?

‘A state in which a deficiency of nutrients such as energy, protein, vitamins and minerals causes measurable adverse effects on body composition, function or clinical outcome’ (NICE, 2006: 1). Malnutrition is further divided into two categories under-nutrient and over-nutrient.

What are some signs and symptoms of malnutrition:

  • Physical appearance, thin
  • Loose fitting clothes or jewlery that had previously fit
  • Unintentional weight loss (5-10% of body weight within 3-6 months)
  • Increase infections
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Muscle weakness



Research has shown that as a part of aging there is an increased incidence rate of anemia in older adults. Most commonly due to iron deficiency. 10% of older adults not living in institutions and 46% of adults living in instiutions were found to be iron deficient. Anemia can lead to weakness, which can lead to concerns for older adults in regards to falls. Studies have also shown that a lack of iron can further cognitive decline.

Vitamin D

Recent studies have also found high prevalence of low vitamin D levels. Approximately 34% of older adults intake less than the recommended dose for vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D has been connected to increased falls, and fractures associated with osteoporosis in older adults. Insufficient vitamin is also seen in increased risk for malignancies, and for developing chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.


Calcium plays an important role in building and maintaining strong bones. However, studies have shown that as people age they intake less calcium. Calcium is very important especially for women who experience bone loss after menopause. Lack of calcium can lead to osteoporosis, brittle bones, and fractures.


Fiber is a key proponent that aids in healthy digestion by helping move food through the digestion track. Fiber can help prevent cardiovascular disease by reducing blood pressure and inflammation. It also helps control blood sugar and can help prevent developing type 2 diabetes.


Potassium is another mineral that older adults do not always get enough of. It promotes bone health and is vital for cell function. It helps reduce blood pressure and reduces your risk of developing kidney stones. However, certain medications such sprionolactone can cause your body to retain potassium, so eating foods that are high in potassium can cause hyperkalemia, or too much potassium.

Preventing Malnutrition

Studies have shown that there is no singular cause for malnutrition in the older adult. It is in fact a culmination of several that can lead to the development of malnutrition.

Causes of Malnutrition:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Teeth
  • Therapeutic diets
  • Social Isolation
  • Physical disability
  • Mental distrubances


Loss of Appetite

  • Review medication with physician
  • Invite friends and family to dinner
  • Learn how to cook for one
  • Increase spices in prepared dishes


  • Frequent dental visits
  • Well-fitting dentures
  • Good oral hygiene

Therapeutic diets

  • Communication with a community dietician

Social Isolation

  • Lucheon clubs
  • Cooking sessions

Physical disability

  • Using specialty adapted utensils
  • Using simple methods of cooking
  • Assistance with shopping

Mental disturbances

  • Meals on wheels
  • Day care centers
  • Lunch clubs


Dera, M., & Woodham, D. (2016). Treating malnutrition in the community. British Journal Of Community Nursing, 21(11), 558-562.

Shepherd, A. (2009). Nutrition through the life span. Part 3: adults aged 65 years and over. British Journal Of Nursing, 18(5), 301-307.

Malnutrition. (2014). Nursing Standard, 29(4), 18. doi:10.7748/ns.29.4.18.s25

Jaret, P. (n.d.). 9 Nutrients Older Adults Need for Nutrition and Health. Retrieved March 08, 2017, from

Nutrition for older persons. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2017, from


Created with images by JerzyGorecki - "vegetables healthy nutrition kitchen" • daoro - "Danse" • Aproximando Ciência e Pessoas - "Frutas e Vegetais" • skeeze - "clasped hands comfort hands"

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