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Causes of Malnutrition in Older Adults

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Happy senior woman with a paper grocery bag full of vegetables.

Part of what makes most senior communities different from apartment complexes is that they usually offer great amenities. But finding the right community is more than just ensuring it has a games room or fitness center. A senior community that enables healthy living right down to what the residents are eating is what you want.

Proper nutrition is more than what a person eats or doesn’t eat. As we’ll see below, even exercise can help prevent malnutrition in a surprising way. So, finding a community with a team of professionals who encourage and enable healthy living for the body and mind is one step toward preventing malnutrition.

What Is Malnutrition?

The body needs a delicate balance of nutrients. A person is considered malnourished when this balance is disrupted by too much or too little of a particular nutrient or nutrients (known as over and undernutrition).

Because of the nature of the condition, malnutrition can often go undetected early on. The symptoms may not be noticeable. This is demonstrated by nearly 16% of seniors over 65 consuming less than 1,000 calories daily, which contributes heavily to malnutrition among seniors. 

Causes of Malnutrition in Older Adults

One of the biggest and most prominent causes of malnutrition in older adults would be simply not eating enough. However, some other potential causes may surprise you. Let’s look at 6 of them.

Cognitive Issues

Suppose someone is dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. In that case, they may not consume enough nutrients due to forgetting to eat or buy groceries. This is where an assisted living community may be a great choice if the disease hasn’t progressed too far.


Some illnesses or diseases may make a person not eat because it causes physical discomfort. For example, cancer, stomach issues, and intestinal issues will cause problems maintaining a proper diet. In addition, sometimes one may experience disease-related complications that prevent your body from absorbing nutrients properly.


Some medications can mess with your appetite. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe additional medication to help counteract appetite loss. Additionally, there are medications that can mess with your body’s ability to naturally absorb certain nutrients.

Dietary Restrictions

Certain conditions require strict diets to manage them; diabetes is a prime example, and any inflammatory disease is another. The issue is that when these dietary restrictions aren’t done properly, it can lead to malnutrition. Sometimes, a supplement is the best solution if the diet can’t be modified. This is something that you’d want to discuss with your doctor.

Problems Eating

Specifically, in older adults, eating can become troublesome for any number of issues, such as tooth and mouth problems or trouble swallowing. In situations like this, if a senior can’t get enough nutrients from the food they can eat, they may want to discuss the issue with a doctor to find the right supplement.

Lack of Appetite

An overall lack of appetite can be a significant reason an older adult becomes malnourished. Not being hungry can result from any of the things already discussed. Still, many other things can cause a lack of appetite.

A big one would be mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Alcohol abuse can also contribute to a lack of appetite, among other health problems (especially in seniors). Even a limited income could result in not being hungry because the person can’t actually afford enough groceries. So, they ration themselves or don’t eat.

Happy male resident is served his lunch by a smiling care aide.

Signs of Malnutrition

Malnutrition isn’t something that happens overnight. There are usually signs leading up to it. The effects can usually be reversed without medical intervention if they’re noticed in time.

Here are some of the significant warning signs of malnutrition:

  • Lacking energy or feeling weak
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Not being hungry
  • Bloating or fluid retention
  • Only eating small portions

Problems From Malnutrition

If left untreated, malnutrition can lead to some pretty severe health complications. When these complications start occurring, the malnutrition will likely need a doctor’s intervention. This is why proper nutrition is so essential for anyone, especially children and older adults.

Some of these complications include:

  • Increased chance of infection or disease due to a weakened immune system
  • Increased chance of unexpected death
  • Increased risk of being hospitalized
  • Less muscle and bone mass, which can lead to getting hurt
  • Slower recovery time if injured

How Parsons House Contributes to Healthy Living

You shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything to be a part of a community that values healthy eating and good living. At Parsons House, we have several living arrangements you can choose from. Each one contributes to the health and wellness of people with varying needs.

Give us a call today. We’re happy to answer any of your questions about life in the community. And if you’re interested, we can book you a tour so you can see everything for yourself. 


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