Why is Malnutrition Common in Older Adults?

Who comes to mind when you think about malnutrition?  Many will think of the homeless living in your city, or the children residing in less-developed countries. But what about the elderly? According to the Alliance For Aging Research, malnutrition is an underrecognized and underreported problem among older adults in the United States. Here are a few shocking statistics about malnutrition in the elderly.

Disease-associated malnutrition can occur in conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, gastrointestinal diseases, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, and depression.

Disease-related malnutrition is often associated with protein deficiencies, which can result in loss of muscle mass and strength, known as a condition called sarcopenia.

Why is malnutrition underrecognized and underreported among older adults in the United States?

One of the main reasons malnutrition often goes unnoticed is that the symptoms can be difficult to identify. Even healthcare professionals miss the signs; it’s not uncommon for malnutrition to be mistaken as a normal part of the aging process. Unfortunately, the consequences of undiagnosed malnutrition can be detrimental to a senior’s health. Failing to meet nutritional needs can compromise immunity, lead to unhealthy weight loss, reduce mobility, and ultimately jeopardize independence.

The increased economic burden in the United Stated for disease-associated malnutrition in older adults is $51.3 billion per year. Not only is malnutrition dangerous; it’s also expensive.

Because seniors are more likely to have chronic conditions, their risk for malnutrition increases. Cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and several other conditions can reduce their appetite, make eating difficult or change their metabolism. Some conditions, such as diabetes, may even require dietary restrictions. Here are a few additional reasons why seniors may become malnourished.

Getting to The Grocery Store

Getting to and from the grocery store can be one of the most significant challenges for seniors trying to get adequate nutrition. This can be for a variety of reasons.

Inability to drive. Seniors who are unable to drive may have a difficult time finding a ride to and from the grocery store.

Weather. Many seniors, especially those who are frail, refrain from making a trip to the grocery store when the weather is bad.

Live far away. Seniors who live in rural areas may have a hard time getting adequate nutrition because they live too far from a grocery store. Perhaps the store nearest to them is limited in its selection of fresh foods.

Each of these barriers can make it difficult for seniors to get to the grocery store.

Navigating The Grocery Store

While some seniors may refrain from grocery shopping because they have trouble getting to and from the store, other seniors may refrain from shopping because of the struggles they have when at the grocery store.

Difficulty reaching or carrying items. Seniors with limited strength and mobility may feel like they are a burden when they continuously have to ask employees for assistance with items that are hard to reach or difficult to carry.

Shopping for one.  Many of the items in the grocery store are geared towards families; this can make it difficult for seniors who are shopping for one.

Packaging. Nutritional labels are often small and difficult to read, especially for those will poor vision.

Many seniors attempt to reduce the frequency of their grocery store visits by purchasing more processed foods due to their longer shelf life. Unfortunately, processed foods are often rich in unhealthy ingredients including salt and sugar.

Home care services can help seniors by eliminating many of the challenges seniors face when grocery shopping. Caregivers can drive seniors to the grocery store, help them navigate the aisles, read labels, and transport the groceries back to the senior’s home.

Decreased Senses

Don’t notice when food spoils. Diminished senses can make it hard for seniors to realize when food goes bad. Reduced eyesight can make it difficult to see mold, while a decrease in the sense of smell and taste can also make it difficult for seniors to recognize spoiled food.

Many seniors can benefit from having a caregiver to sort through old foods and add labels dating the food and determining expiration dates.

Food seems less appealing.  A decrease in senses can make food seem less appealing to older adults. Not only does this apply to taste, but also smell. You may not realize it, but the smell of food plays a huge role in how enjoyable you find it.

Lack of Companionship

Less enthusiastic about eating alone. For many of us, meals are better shared with the company of others. If a senior is living alone, they may not be as enthusiastic about eating. One of the most overlooked contributions that caregivers bring to seniors is their companionship during meal times.

Loss of a friend or loved one. Seniors may become malnourished due to loss of a friend or loved one. Maybe they used to go out to eat with this person or have them over for dinner. Regardless, a loss can cause seniors to lose their appetite.


Getting adequate nutrition is crucial for seniors to remain independent. Seniors who meet their requirements typically report better mental acuity, stronger immune systems, higher energy levels and have an easier time managing chronic illnesses.

“Why is Malnutrition Common in Older Adults?,” Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.

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