Malnutrition & Older Adults

Malnutrition can result from having too little or too much, or from an imbalance in protein, energy, or other nutrients. This adversely affects an individual’s body composition, function, and ability to fight illness. For older adults, this means increased fall risk, slower recovery times, re-hospitalizations and readmissions, and greater likelihood of nursing home placement.

There is a great deal of information about malnutrition that the general public does not know. Malnutrition affects people of all ages, even though it is found in a greater percentage of older adults. Malnourished people can be underweight, overweight, or within an acceptable weight range, but have very poor dietary habits. Malnutrition is not solved by eating more food. It requires getting an appropriate balance of nutrients in the food consumed. Malnutrition has many warning signs, including fatigue, muscle weakness, increased illness, and appearance changes.

Older adults are at a high risk for malnutrition, with half of older adults being at risk at some point in time. Malnutrition occurs more easily in older adults, as cognitive issues, social isolation, dementia, limited income, and depression can make preparing and eating nutritious meals extremely difficult.

Malnutrition is preventable as long as older adults and social supports understand the issues involved. With $51.3 billion spent on treating the diseases in older adults caused from malnutrition, there is increased interest in this topic. More programs are available now to assist older adults in getting proper nutrition.

Senior Centers continue to provide meals to older adults 60 years of age and older. Meals can be obtained by dining at the congregate site, obtaining home-delivery, or picking up meals at the senior site, while Covid-19 precautions are in place. There is a designated senior center in every county. These meals have a suggested donation, but will be provided without charge if a senior does not have the means to pay.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or (SNAP) is what many may remember as food stamps or LINK. This is available for older adults who are on a low-income. Three out of five older adults qualify, but do not receive the benefit. Over 250,000 grocery stores and farmer’s markets accept SNAP as payment for food. The benefit amount for the program has increased. Applications are available by mail, in-person, or online. Assistance in applying for SNAP can be obtained from our agency, Shawnee Alliance, or the local senior center.

Additional commodity programs and food pantry information can be found by calling one of the aforementioned offices or in our Aging and Disability Resource Guide, also available in booklet form our office in Carterville.

Sources: Public Health Post, NCOA, Illinois Department on Aging.

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