Malnutrition Among Older Adults

Malnutrition happens when you are not getting the proper amount of nutrients to stay healthy. You may not have the proper amount of protein, calories, and other essential vitamins.

As you get older, you may be especially at risk for malnutrition.  This condition can jeopardize your health and independence and is therefore critical to watch for the signs to prevent this condition. 

Chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and depression occur more frequently in older adults. These conditions can affect your appetite by making eating difficult, change metabolism and require dietary restrictions. You may also have lack of access to nutritious food because of food insecurity or inability to prepare or shop for food and socially isolated. Poor dental health can affect your diet, for example if it hurts your gums to chew food.

If you are not getting proper nutrition, it is difficult to stay healthy and fight off disease. Malnutrition can also compromise your immune system, frailty and complicate treatment for other diseases. You are more vulnerable to increased risk of falling, slower recovery times and possible hospitalizations.

Here are tips to watch for signs of malnutrition and how to treat it.

Signs of Senior Malnutrition

Signs of Malnutrition

Here are some signs of malnutrition:

  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Feeling weak, tired, irritable
  • Feelings of sadness or depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid accumulation or swelling
  • Eating small portions
  • Memory issues
  • Getting sick more frequently
  • Dry, cracked skin
  • Bruising more easily
  • Wounds slow to heal
  • Outdated food in fridge
  • Muscle weakness
  • Drinking alcohol more frequently
  • Always feeling cold
  • Inability to concentrate
  • loss of fat, muscle mass, and body tissue

If you know of someone or suspect you are experiencing malnutrition, it is important to get a diagnosis. Your doctor can perform tests to determine if the cause is Crohn’s disease, celiac disease or other conditions. Laboratory tests can be performed to confirm a diagnosis. Blood tests can check for lack of nutritents such as iron or vitamins. Prealbumin can be tested to determine levels of protein. Albumin tests can indicate liver or kidney disease.

Treatment For Senior Malnutrition


If malnutrition is diagnosed, your doctor will come up with a treatment plan which may include:

  • Ongoing screening
  • Create a dietary plan which may include vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Specific symptoms can be tr eated like nausea
  • Check for swallowing problems
  • Use alternative eating untensils
  • Hospitalization may be required to receive important nutrients intravenously
  • Drinking milkshakes with added protein and nutrition
  • Adding chopped nuts, wheat germ, or extra eggs to cakes and other sweets (use less sugar in baking)
  • Changing prescription medications
  • Make meals social events
  • Incorporate light daily exercise to stimulate appetite
  • Advice on smart shopping for food
  • Hire someone to shop and prepare meals

Good nutrition is vital to prevent illness. This article goes into more detail on what foods to eat.

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