Older adults face a number of barriers when trying to meet their daily nutrient requirements – in order to lead fit, healthy and active lifestyles.
In the case of aged-care residents throughout Australia, it’s now evident that these barriers have been too difficult to overcome – resulting in a malnutrition epidemic among today’s older Australians.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition(subnutrition) is a health condition where an individual is not eating enough food (or is eating the wrong balance of food types) to fulfil their body’s nutritional requirements for good health.
In older adults, experiencing malnutrition, their body composition changes with the loss of bone density, lean muscle tissue and fat. Other signs and symptoms of malnutrition include breathing difficulties, depression, post-surgery complications, hypothermia, a weakened immune system, slower recovery from infections and illness, and longer wound healing times.
What are the causes of malnutrition?
There are many medical, social and psychological causes of malnutrition in older Australians. They include oral health problems, poor appetite, impaired sense o f taste and smell, dementia, disease, disability, limited mobility, depression, and other social and lifestyle factors.
But the risk factor with the biggest impact on malnutrition in older adults is poor oral health.
A number of oral health problems can greatly affect the ability of older people to chew and eat food:
- Oral pain and discomfort
- Tooth loss
- Dry mouth (reduced salivary rates)
In a recent study, conducted by the UNC School of Medicine, older adults with poor oral health experienced more difficulty when eating and chewing different types of food – especially firm foods that are harder to chew. These individuals were three times more likely to suffer from malnutrition because they were not able to absorb and benefit from eating a wider range of nutritious food.
As a result, their bodies were deficient in a range of essential micro-nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium and Vitamins A, B, C and E, as well as macro-nutrients such as protein and fibre. An inadequate intake of these nutrients was associated with poorer general health and a lower quality of life.
Hickson, M. “Malnutrition and Ageing.” Postgraduate Medical Journal 82.963 (2006): 2–8. PMC. Web. 18 June 2017.
“Impact of oral health on nutrition.” Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Australia; 2. The University of Queensland, School of Dentistry, UQ Oral Health Centre, Herston Rd, Brisbane, QLD 4006, Australia.
“Associations between malnutrition, poor general health and oral dryness in hospitalized elderly patients“, VALERIE DORMENVAL, EJVIND BUDTZ-JORGENSEN, PHIUPPE MOJON, ANDRE BRUYERE1 , CHARLES-HENRI RAPIN1, Department of Gerodontology and Removable Pnosthodontics, University of Geneva, 19 rue Barthelemy-Menn, CH-1205 Geneva, Switzerland. ‘University Institute of Geriatrics, Geneva, Switzerland.
“Risk Factors for Malnutrition among Older Adults in the Emergency Department: A Multicenter Study.” Authors: Collin E. Burks BA, Christopher W. Jones MD, Valerie A. Braz PhD, Robert A. Swor DO, Natalie L.