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As people age, it is not uncommon to lose function and slow down in ways that are hard to control. Getting sufficient nutrition while aging can be controlled, however. People should do all they can to ensure nutritional requirements are met as they age.

Malnutrition is the persistent deficit or malabsorption of one or multiple important nutrients, which are normally acquired through a proper diet. While some aspects of aging are difficult to control, proper nutritional intake is more easily addressed. Getting proper nutrition is a critical need for the elderly.

There are many factors that cause people to become malnourished while aging. Some include medical factors, such as reduced appetite, dental or oral problems, reduced smell and taste, and other medical conditions that cause a person simply eat less. Lifestyle can play a role as well, especially in elderly people who live alone and eat less as a result, or in those for whom the cost of food is hard to manage. In addition to direct causes, the elderly experience more chronic and acute diseases, many of which require hospitalization, which can further interfere with obtaining proper nutrition.

Malnutrition is not uncommon. In one study of over 4,500 elderly people from multiple countries, nearly half of those surveyed were at risk for malnutrition, and almost a quarter were diagnosed as being malnourished.1 The risks of malnutrition are serious and include increased chance of infection, slower recovery from illness or injury and overall increased mortality.*

Therefore, it is important for people to make an effort to get sufficient nutrition as they age. Exercise and an active social life are lifestyle behaviors that can help increase appetite as well. But most important, readily available, nutritious foods and even subtle dietary changes to improve food intake are ways to address malnutrition while aging.2 At Nestlé Health Science, we take aging-related malnutrition seriously and are actively involved in finding and delivering nutritional therapies to all kinds of patients.

1. Kaiser MJ, Bauer JM, Rämsch C, Uter W, Guigoz Y, Cederholm T et al. Frequency of malnutrition in older adults: a multinational perspective using the mini nutritional assessment. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Sep;58(9):1734-8.
2. Hickson M. Malnutrition and ageing. Postgrad Med J. Jan 2006; 82(963): 2–8.
*Listed symptoms are not all-inclusive; actual patient symptoms may vary.

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Sufficient nutrition for the maintenance of lean muscle mass is a key to staying healthy

Source: Hickson M. Malnutrition and ageing. Postgrad Med J. Jan 2006; 82(963): 2–8

Ways to improve nutritional intake


Readily available, easily accessible and nutrient-rich foods can help to improve the intake of important nutrients. In the case of a reduced appetite common in many people as they age, the availability of nutritious snacks is a helpful way to improve nutritional intake between meals. Foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and cheese can all be added to meals or eaten as snacks to help reduce the risk of malnutrition.

Recognizing common causes of malnutrition


Small changes in habits can have, over time, a large impact on the amount of nutrition people receive from their diet. The following factors are often implicated in people eating less: health and dental problems, medications that interfere with appetite or cause nausea, living alone (social isolation), mental problems such as depression and excessive alcohol consumption.

Signs and symptoms of malnutrition


As malnutrition is the persistent deficit or malabsorption of sufficient nutrients from the diet, one of the most common symptoms is unintended weight loss. But if someone is replacing nourishing foods with less healthy options, loss of lean tissue, like muscle, might be made up by increasing fat. Therefore it is important to be aware of other signs of malnutrition, such as changes in eating habits, fatigue and loss of strength, and slower-than-expected recovery from injury and illness.