The surprising ways malnutrition can creep up

October 5, 2023
October 4, 2023
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Malnutrition can sneak up, and take everyone by surprise. Here, a BlueCare Allied Health Dietitian explains some of the common, and not so common causes so you can stop it in its tracks.

“Many people are surprised that in a country as wealthy as Australia, up to 40% of older people in our communities are at serious risk of malnutrition, or already have it,” says BlueCare’s Allied Health Statewide Dietetic Lead, Caitlin Fulford.

“But there are many reasons they can be at risk. There are serious causes like illness and cancer.

“However there are many other ways seniors can end up with nutritional deficiencies that everyone needs to be aware of.”

Caitlin advises being aware of, and looking out for the following issues:

The more obvious reasons for malnutrition:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (for example, nausea or constipation)
  • llnesses that increase nutritional needs (such as kidney failure or cancer)
  • Conditions that can stop nutrients being absorbed properly like Crohn’s disease
  • Dental problems which cause discomfort/pain and make eating more difficult such as gum inflammation, tooth loss, ill-fitting dentures
  • Financial difficulties meaning nutritious food is unaffordable
  • Frailty which means shopping for food and cooking are difficult
  • Being unable to access food easily due to inability to go shopping or living in a remote area
  • Grief/depression: death of a partner and friends can have a serious impact on appetite.

The less obvious:

  • Loneliness/ social isolation: One study showed that people over 65 living alone have a much lower body weight compared to those living with family. And older people who are socially isolated often have reduced appetite, eat fewer meals daily and eat less protein, fruits and veg – possibly because they are less motivated to shop and cook. Also, those living alone get fewer social cues to eat.
  • .
  • Dementia because the condition alters eating behaviour, hunger/thirst cues, ability to feed yourself, the swallow function and even the ability to recognise food.
  • Certain medications – many people don’t realise that their meds can affect appetite (so it’s worth reading the consumer information that comes with the medication) Medications to be aware of include those for Parkinson's disease, certain diabetes medications, antidepressants and medications for dementia.
  • Dysphagia: this is a condition which means you have difficulty swallowing, drinking, closing your lips.
  • A reduction in taste and smell which can occur over the age of 60, but people might not realise it has happened to them. It can reduce appetite, and lead to making poor choices for foods that have low nutritional value.

If you’re concerned about yourself or someone else, read more about how our Allied Health Dietitians can help, and call BlueCare on 1300 258 322 to request additional information and support with accessing a Dietitian.

Our experts will be able to come up with the right solution for you – or them – on bespoke nutrition plan that’s the right solution for individual needs and circumstances.

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