Did you know that, October 5th through October 9th, was Malnutrition Awareness Week™ , which was created by the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) as a multi-organizational campaign to educate and increase awareness of the early detection and treatment of malnutrition!?

It is no secret that good nutrition can help reduce the risk of older adults contracting a number of illnesses.  Proper nourishment can also help to keep older adults healthy, active, and independently living in their communities. 

There are a variety of factors that can affect one's nutritional status and older adults are already at a higher risk of malnutrition compared to younger adults. 

• 1 out of 2 older adults is at risk for malnutrition or is already malnourished.

• 16% of independent older adults are at high risk for malnutrition.

• Up to 60% of older adults in health care settings are malnourished.

• 9 million older adults cannot afford nutritious food.

• 1 in 4 adults (25%) aged 65 years or older either reduces meal sizes or skip meals.

• Tooth loss, poor dental health, loss of appetite, and changes in taste, which are a natural part of the aging process, are contributing factors to malnutrition.

The Illinois Department on Aging would like to increase awareness of this common, but unfavorable health condition so that we can help our Illinois Seniors stay healthy and happily living in their community!

Malnutrition is defined as too little or too much energy, protein, and nutrients that can negatively impact a person's body and its function. It can result from undernutrition or overnutrition and can affect anyone, but seniors over 65 years are at an increased risk. As we age, our daily eating habits and activities change, which can affect our nutrition status. The body does not digest and metabolize food as efficiently as it used to.

Undernutrition - is caused by not consuming enough calories, protein, or other nutrients. This occurs frequently in parts of the world that do not provide adequate access to food and clean drinking water. It can also occur because of an illness or surgery that impacts appetite or food consumption.

Overnutrition – is caused by consuming more calories than a person needs. A person can eat more calories than their body needs and be malnourished at the same time. Consuming too many calories and not enough variety of nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, beans, low-fat dairy, nuts, and seeds can lead to vitamin, mineral, or protein deficiencies. In the U.S., this is commonly seen in the hunger and overweight paradox, which occurs mostly in food insecure, impoverished areas.

Take a validated Self Mini Nutritional Assessment for adults 65 years and older (also available in Spanish). For extra assistance, view this guide for help with completing the malnutrition screening. 

A Guide for Adults – Factors that may cause or contribute to malnutrition:

• Chronic health conditions

• Gastrointestinal disorders (e.g ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, celiac disease)

• Limited income

• Depression

• Trouble swallowing/chewing

• Changing taste buds

• Poor dental health

• Dementia

• Lack of mobility

• Restricted diets

• Living alone

• Medication side effects

Tips to Help Prevent Malnutrition:

• If you are on medications that decrease your appetite, ask your doctor if there are other options that do not contribute to poor appetite.

• Eat a variety of foods that provide nutrients such as potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 or consume foods that are fortified with vitamins and minerals (e.g. cow's milk, fruits, vegetables, tuna, salmon, turkey, whole grains).  Ask your doctor for a referral to see a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist if you think you may be at risk for malnutrition.

• Engage in types of exercise that are appropriate and enjoyable for you to help maintain/build muscle mass.

Always check with your doctor to see what types of exercise are appropriate for you and safe to do based on your health status.