Malnutrition Affects Millions of Older Adults: Is Someone You Know at Risk?


Poor nutrition in older adults is common, but often goes unrecognized. Even people who seem to eat enough can be malnourished if they do not get enough of the right nutrients.

Researchers in one large study found that almost 23 of every 100 older adults were malnourished, and 46 out of 100 older people were at risk.

Some older people who live at home have poor nutrition. Those in hospitals or other facilities are at even higher risk. Could you or an older adult you know be one of them?

2 out of every 3 older adults are malnourished or at risk!

How do I know if I have malnutrition?

Watch for signs of nutrition problems such as weight loss, not eating well, feeling weak, and having low energy. If you want, you can check if you or another older adult have malnutrition or is at risk with a screening tool.

One tool to screen adults 65 years or older is the Self-MNA®. To do the Self-MNA® you answer six questions, and then you get a screening score. Click the blue title to get the tool you want: 

If an older adult is in the hospital or other care setting, talk with a nurse, doctor, or dietitian about how they check if people have poor nutrition and how to prevent malnutrition. You can also ask if you can do anything to assist with good nutrition.

If it’s medically okay, sometimes you can bring in favorite foods or help with the older adult at mealtimes.

Why are so many older adults at risk for poor nutrition?

With age, you do not smell, see, or taste as well as when you were younger. This can change the way you eat or cook.

Sometimes health problems make it hard to move well, so getting or cooking food is harder. The cost of food or trouble getting to a store can be problems, too. Learn more the causes of malnutrition in older adults.

What if I think I am at risk or have malnutrition?

Talk with your doctor, nurse, or dietitian if you notice any signs of malnutrition. If you did a screening test, show them the results. A professional can help you find out what may be causing the signs and suggest ways to help improve nutrition for that person if it is a problem.

For example, some people may need to take supplements and others may need help getting or cooking food.

Tell your health care providers about things that make it hard for you to eat well so they can help you find a solution that will work for you.

About the author

Sonya Flanders, RN, ACNS-BC
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Sonya is an adult clinical nurse specialist with Baylor and moved to Texas from Canada to become a Baylor nurse. She's focused on enhancing health education of older adults along with their families and caregivers.

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Malnutrition Affects Millions of Older Adults: Is Someone You Know at Risk?