What Causes Malnutrition in the Elderly?

Article Details
  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article

There are a number of causes of malnutrition in the elderly, which is a serious health problem for a number of older people. Though the direct cause of malnutrition is an inadequate diet, lacking in required nutrients, the indirect causes of this inadequate diet are more complex. One of the leading causes of malnutrition in the elderly is an illness that can cause an individual to lose his or her appetite, or make it very difficult to chew and swallow food. A loss of income may also make it difficult to purchase the amount of food that is required for a healthy diet, and a lack of energy or mobility can make it more difficult to get to get out to the store regularly.

As a general rule, health issues are the leading causes of malnutrition in the elderly. There are a number of potential illnesses or medical conditions that can make cause an individual to lose his or her appetite, or lose the energy to shop for and prepare food. Many of these medical problems can also make it difficult or impossible to chew food, which further limits the diet, and makes it a lot more difficult to get adequate nutrition. Elderly people may also have trouble with sight or hearing, as well as loss of mobility, all of which also make it harder to shop for food and then cook it later.


Aside from health issues, monetary troubles are another leading cause of malnutrition in the elderly. Many people find that their income drops sharply once they retire, particularly if they have other expensive bills such as medical bills or regular prescription medication. This loss of income can make it difficult to purchase food that is not cheap and low in quality, making it more of a challenge to meet nutritional needs. In addition to these causes, changes in lifestyle can also contribute to malnutrition in the elderly.

Many older people live alone and experience feelings of isolation and depression, which make it less likely that they will want to prepare meals for themselves. Those who live alone are further challenged by the fact that it is often more complicated to shop for and prepare meals for just one person. Others may be placed on limited or restricted diets by their doctors in order to treat health conditions, but may not understand how to prepare nutritious food while avoiding certain ingredients, so they will not eat much at all. There are a number of factors that combine to contribute to malnutrition in the elderly, and it is important for caregivers and relatives to look for and recognize the signs, such as weight loss. It is important to take steps as soon as possible to assist older people in getting adequate nutrition every day.



Discuss this Article

Post 4

My great grandmother lived over ninety and her biggest problem during the last ten years of her life was difficulty chewing. She had no teeth at that point and refused to wear dentures saying that they were painful. So she used to only eat very soft foods or liquids. And it took her a very long time to chew food. I remember once, she was able to swallow a piece of bread only after ten minutes of chewing it and holding it in her mouth.

Post 3

@ddljohn-- That's wonderful what you and your family did. It's a great example.

I agree that elderly need special attention. But I also know the negligence by caretakers can be a cause of malnutrition as well. I think some people even withhold food from the elderly or the elderly refuse to eat. So although care is important, sometimes, it's not enough or it's not done properly.

Post 2

This is exactly why the elderly need to be with a caregiver who can give special attention to them. Families need to take care of the elderly in their family or at least place them in good facilities where they will receive the care and attention they need.

We had an elderly neighbor a few years ago who was not able to prepare his own food and his family was not coming out and checking on him. After we came to know of his situation, my wife started putting aside a plate for him with whatever she cooked that day. And we started taking it to him daily. We also had him come over for dinner whenever he was

able to and made sure that he was getting at least one or two proper meals a day. I would pick up groceries for him on the weekends so that he had something to eat and drink when he was alone. It's not that he didn't have money, he just couldn't drive to the store and do chores in the house due to old age and arthritis.

His family finally came around and had him move in with them and he is living in another state now. But as neighbors, relatives and concerned citizens of the community, if we do our share to help care for and protect the elderly, issues like malnutrition can be overcome completely.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?