Malnutrition in the Elderly – Food&Nutrition Example

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"Malnutrition in the Elderly" is an excellent example of a paper on food and nutrition. Malnutrition refers to the excessive intake or deficit of nutrients in the body. Malnutrition is one of the major health risk factors facing the elderly, considering that they are highly vulnerable to the inability to feed efficiently. Physiological and mechanical factors, such as dentition problems, immobility, poor digestion, and absorption system highly contribute to the malnutrition risk of the elderly. Further, the poor appetite, poor smelling and tasting physiological abilities associated with old age also contribute to the high prevalence of malnutrition in elderly people. Introduction Malnutrition is defined as the nutritional imbalance within an individual’ s body, which is caused either by excessive intake of nutrients or by the shortage of such nutrients in the body (Stratton, 2005).

Eating a healthy diet is one of the major ways that can help individuals avoid the risk of malnutrition. Nevertheless, while the definition encompasses both the excessive intake of nutrients and the deficit of such nutrients, conventionally the term Malnutrition has always been applied to define the deteriorating state of health of individuals, arising from poor intake of nutrients (Hall& Brown, 2005).

The problem of malnutrition has become an increasing health risk factor for the elderly, considering that the elderly are highly prone to various diet challenges.   This becomes a huge health concern, considering the fact that malnutrition has become a major negative health influence on society, with between 5-10 % of the elderly population in American society suffering from malnutrition (Furman, 2006).   In addition, it is estimated that 60% of the elderly population that is hospitalized is facing the risk of malnutrition.

Further, it is estimated that between 80% and 85% of the elderly people living under conditions of poverty are suffering from malnutrition (Furman, 2006). In this respect, therefore, while malnutrition is prevalent in society, it is more prevalent in poverty-stricken regions and in health facilities. Therefore, addressing the nutritional needs of the elderly becomes important to enhance the health of the elderly, and enhance their attainment of a healthy old age. Nevertheless, while there are several causes of malnutrition in society, this discussion holds that the main cause of malnutrition in the elderly is due to the mechanics and physiology of digestion. Discussion Among the health risk factors that have been identified as causing a high prevalence of malnutrition in elderly people, mechanical and physiological factors have emerged as highly influential.

Oral mechanical health is one of the major physiological factors that affect the feeding of elderly people, effectively resulting in the inability of the elderly people to feed effectively (Baumgartner, et al, 1995). With the advancement in age, people are prone to lose their teeth and even become weak in their jaws.

Consequently, such people face major mechanical hindrances in chewing food, resulting in the poor consumption of nutrition by the elderly people. The consequence of this poor feeding is that the nutritional absorption of the foods consumed by the elderly people becomes poor, due to the fact that the elderly are not in a better position to eat a wide variety of foods, thus may even miss out on the balance diets (Chapman, 2009).   Further, even where the elderly are trying to eat a variety of foods that can provide them with the necessary nutritional requirements for a balanced diet, the problem of the mechanical inability to chew foods substantially means that the foods have not been broken down efficiently.

In this respect, the body system does not maximize the absorption of the nutrients as could happen with the food substances that are well chewed and broken down (De Castro, 1993). This way, the elderly are highly prone to malnutrition in form of some nutrients deficits, especially the nutritional components that are absorbed from hard foods that comprise fibers and roughages food types. The major physiological factor that causes the malnutrition of elderly people is the swallowing problem, which is also associated with the detention problem that elderly people are highly prone to (Turner, 2008).

With the detention problem that limits the chewing of food substances by elderly people, the swallowing of such foods is also affected.   This is because, where the food substances are not fully broken down, the elderly people are only able to swallow some of such food particles, while the rest is left out.

Consequently, the nutritional state of the foods consumed by the elderly becomes lesser, and the overall nutritional state of the elderly becomes poor.   The physical impairment that results in the immobility of the elderly people also serves as yet another physiological health factor that contributes to the malnutrition of the elderly people (Stratton, 2005). This is because, with reduced mobility, there is the problem of accessibility to a variety of food substances by the elderly people. This simply means that such people are only able to feed on whatever they can access easily, with less consideration regarding whether the food substances they consume are healthy or balanced (Stratton, 2005).

In this respect, elderly people are exposed to a high risk of the nutritional deficit, simply because they may not be able to access a variety of food substances that would constitute a healthy meal. Additionally, the physiological risk factors to the malnutrition of the elderly people are also increased by the fact that such people may not be able to prepare the food well even where they have good access to a variety of food substances that can constitute a balanced diet (Furman, 2006).

This also means that such elderly people will only be able to feed on what they are able to prepare regardless of whether it meets the balanced diet requirements. In addition, the elderly people may also have a problem feeding themselves even where they already have a well balanced and healthy meal prepared for them, considering that at their old age, people start developing satiety and physiological appetite loss, which means that the elderly may not be able to feed efficiently (Baumgartner, et al, 1995).

Consequently, the nutritional consumption for such people is always way below the body requirement, rendering such people suffer from malnutrition.   The other physiological development that faces the older people and thus becomes a major malnutrition risk factor is the weak digestive body system that is not actively involved in the absorption of nutrients from the foods that have been consumed by the elderly people (De Castro, 1993). In this respect, it may not be so much of a risk that the elderly people will not be able to access or to prepare balanced meals for themselves, but more of the risk of inability to consume the right quantities.

This is because, when people are young, the body system is actively involved in the absorption of nutrients from the foods consumed, so that the body can afford the required energy to support the high level of body activity of young people (Stratton, 2005). However, with the progress in age, the body becomes less effective in absorbing nutrients from the foods even when the elderly people have consumed a balanced diet, since they are not active, and thus it takes longer for the elderly people to get hungry, while it only takes a small amount of food for such people to get full (Turner, 2008). This also means that despite the fact that they may have access to well-balanced foods; the elderly people are also at a high risk of malnutrition, due to the small amount of food consumption they take and get full.

Finally, a decrease in the physiological abilities of smell and taste also forms another risk factor for the elderly, considering that they are not able to derive the necessary appetite from tasting or smelling the food, making them vulnerable to malnutrition (Chapman, 2009).

Therefore, the main cause of malnutrition in the elderly is due to the mechanics and physiology of digestion.


Baumgartner R. et al (1995). Cross‐sectional age differences in body composition in persons 60+ years of age. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 307–316.

De Castro, J. M. (1993)Age‐related changes in spontaneous food intake and hunger in humans. Appetite, 55–72.

Furman, E.F. (2006). Under-nutrition in Older Adults Across the Continuum of Care. Journal of Gerontological Nursing 32(1): 22-27.

Hall, B., & Brown, L. (2005). Food Security Among Older Adults in the United States. Topics in Clinical Nutrition 20(4):329-336.

Stratton, R.J. (2005). To screen or not to screen for adult malnutrition? Clinical Nutrition 24: 867-884.

Turner, A. (2008). Nurses’ views and practices regarding the use of validated nutrition screening tools. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing 26(1): 26-33.

Chapman, I.M. (2009). Undernutrition and Anorexia in the Older Person. Gastroenterology Clinics of North America 38: 393-409.

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