Malnutrition in Aging Adults
By: Megan Radamaker MPH-RD student at the University of Minnesota
When you think of the term malnutrition what do you picture? More often than not the term is associated with a visual of someone that is thin, frail, and undernourished. This may be accurate, but it is not the only picture of malnutrition. Can someone that appears to be heavy or overweight be malnourished also? The answer is yes. According to the World Health Organization the term malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The status of malnutrition is not simply dependent on weight status or appearance. This is a common misconception, even within the medical field and among health professionals. Elderly populations are vulnerable to malnutrition and are often underdiagnosed. People that are malnourished have worse health outcomes than adequately-nourished patients. This often results in increased physician visits, longer hospital stays and readmissions, decreased function and quality of life, and increased healthcare costs. It is essential that nutrition screening and assessment is a routine aspect of clinic workflow both in the hospital setting and in outpatient care. Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are trained to clinically assess patients and identify nutritional risks to address. The field of dietetics is moving towards including hands on physical assessments within the dietitian’s scope of practice in order to more accurately identify malnutrition.
The Malnutrition Universal Screening tool, along with other widely accepted tools, primarily focus on criteria around a patient’s current weight and body mass index (BMI) and unplanned weight loss. However, patients with subtle changes in fat and muscle mass can be difficult to identify. Additionally, by focusing solely on weight status, many cases of malnutrition are missed. In our society, where we have an overabundance of foods that are low in nutritional value, such as fast-food or processed foods, malnutrition can look many different ways. There are multiple variables at play that impact a person’s nutritional status and therefore it is important to consider more than weight status when evaluating for malnutrition. Better nutrition for seniors can lead to better health outcomes for all shapes and sizes!
Compher, C., & Mehta, N. M. (2016). Diagnosing Malnutrition: Where Are We and Where Do We Need to Go? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(5), 779-784. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.02.001
Leading Nutrition Experts Speak up about Malnutrition. (2016, April 17). Retrieved February 11, 2018, from http://www.eatrightpro.org/resource/media/press-releases/new-in-food-nutrition-and-health/nutrition-experts-speak-up-about-malnutrition
Rinehart, S. W., Folliard, J. N., & Raimondi, M. P. (2016). Building a Connection between Senior Hunger and Health Outcomes. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(5), 759-763. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.02.009
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