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8 Risk Factors for Malnutrition in the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

When you talk about common health conditions in the elderly, diseases such as arthritis or heart disease might come to mind. Malnutrition might not be the first condition you think of – yet it is common in the elderly and has serious health implications.

People may think that it’s natural for older people to grow thinner as they age. Yet growing thin isn’t an inevitability for the elderly, and excessive weight loss can weaken the body in ways that raise the risk of health crises such as falls and bad infections. Moreover, an older person whose weight isn’t in the “low” range might still be malnourished if they are not taking in enough vitamins for their body’s needs.

Why are elderly individuals at risk of nutritional deficiency and malnutrition? In this blog post, we’ll discuss the numerous factors that can contribute to malnutrition in the elderly.

What are the risk factors for malnutrition in the elderly?

Difficulties with shopping or preparing food

As people grow older, they may become less mobile due to muscle weakness, difficulties breathing, pain or stiffness in the legs, and many other symptoms associated with chronic health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arthritis, oedema in the legs, Parkinson’s disease and more.

Consequently, they may find it more difficult to leave their homes to shop for food and to prepare food. Walking, picking up bags, standing at a counter and chopping can all become painful and dangerous.

Given these difficulties, older people may choose to eat less, or they may end up preparing simpler meals. As a result, they may not consume enough energy, or they may be eating food from packets that provides adequate energy but not enough nutrition like vitamins.

Low mood

Loneliness and sadness are real dangers for older people. Especially in the wake of losing a loved one such as a spouse, an older person may be too depressed to prepare food or even want to eat.

Dementia

In the middle or late stages of dementia, an older person may no longer sense their body’s signals about feeling cold, hot, hungry or thirsty. As a result, a senior with dementia may not think of eating or particularly want to eat.

Financial difficulty

The cost-of-living crisis is still seriously affecting the UK – and that means some seniors are finding it more difficult to afford food. In fact, in a recent survey of over-75s, one in five seniors responded that they are sometimes forced to choose between paying for essentials such as energy and food due to lack of money.

Physical difficulties with chewing, swallowing, or bringing food to the mouth

We’ve mentioned that there are numerous reasons why older people might find it more physically difficult to go to the shops to buy food and to prepare meals in their home. Similarly, many health conditions affecting the elderly can make it more difficult for them to chew, swallow or lift food from their plate or bowl to their mouth.

Arthritis can make it difficult or painful to hold a utensil. Parkinson’s disease can also cause tremors that make it difficult to lift food with eating utensils, as well as sometimes causing difficulties with swallowing. Dental problems or poorly fitting dentures might also play a role in making it hard to chew.

When physically eating becomes painful and difficult, seniors may lose their appetite or prefer not to eat. While carers may attempt to help in some cases by providing soft-textured or blended food, this type of food can be less appetising to seniors.

Loss of appetite due to medications or other health conditions

Many medications have the side effect of lowering appetite. Moreover, some medical conditions can physically cause appetite to decrease. For example, loss of appetite is a symptom of heart disease.

Greater need for energy

You might be surprised to know that some elderly people need more fuel in their bodies because of long-term health conditions. For example, older people with COPD need significantly more energy because their bodies are working so hard to breathe.

Less efficient digestion

Older people’s digestive systems are often just less good at digesting food and absorbing its nutrition. As a result, older people may experience deficiencies of nutrients such as vitamin B12.

Risks resulting from malnutrition in the elderly

It’s clear why malnutrition in elderly people is not rare. Many older people will experience more than one of the risk factors we’ve listed. But what can result from malnutrition in the elderly?

Muscle wasting and weakness is a significant risk, as is dizziness and lack of energy. These factors can combine to raise the likelihood of falls, which can be extremely dangerous for older people.

Moreover, when older people are malnourished, their immune systems are weakened. This, of course, can make it more difficult for them to fight off infections.

It goes without saying that if you’re concerned about malnutrition in elderly loved ones, you should speak to your GP and get help.

Another step that might help address worries about falling due to muscle weakness or other symptoms of malnutrition is getting an alarm with automatic fall detection. That way, if an older person with malnutrition faints, trips or fall to the ground for any other reason, the alarm will call for help automatically without needing any input from the alarm wearer.

Many alarms with automatic fall detection are also one-touch alarms, which means that they will call for help with just one touch of a button. If an older person with malnutrition finds themself feeling disoriented or ill due to not eating, or if symptoms of an infection have suddenly arisen, they can simply press the alarm’s button to call for help right away. This can be crucial for malnourished seniors whose muscle weakness makes it difficult for them to stand up and walk to a phone.

More peace of mind for seniors at risk of malnutrition

There is no single step that can treat malnutrition in elderly people. When you ask your GP for help with elderly malnutrition, they might recommend a variety of approaches to make food more appetising or accessible.

However, purchasing a personal alarm for the elderly is a significant step toward safety for your elderly loved one. With a personal alarm from SureSafe, you can rest assured that an older loved one who’s struggling with malnutrition won’t be without help if they need it.

At SureSafe, we’re UK market leaders in elderly personal alarms, so we understand older people’s needs when it comes to safety. We’ll be happy to chat with you more about how our alarms can help a senior with malnutrition. Just call us on 0800 112 3201, get in touch through our live chat, or request a call back.

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