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The Impact of Malnutrition on Elderly
As we age we become more susceptible to the environment in which we live, we become less tolerate to ailments and illnesses, but we become much wiser. The importance of a healthy, nutritious diet a in the elderly cannot be emphasized enough and malnutrition can have detrimental effects. The impact is vast and can affect susceptibility to many chronic disease processes and mobility issues.
Bone density and fractures
Fractures in the elderly are common place and simple falls can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of the patient falling. Elderly women are more susceptible to decreased bone density and osteoporosis as a result of decreased calcium in the bones. By ensuring that elderly patients are eating a well balanced diet rich in calcium can limit the effect it has on their bones density and conversely limit the risk of simple fractures. Malnutrition in the elderly is a preventable issue but it can have profound effects on the patient’s life style and mobility. Simple fractures from falls will not heal as easily if the patient is not maintaining a healthy nutritious daily intake of minerals and electrolytes.
Muscle density and mobility
Malnutrition in the elderly leads to decreased muscle tone, weaker tendons and joints and can aggravate pre-existing injuries. If elderly patients do not maintain adequate muscle density they will not have the necessary strength required to mobilize in their normal rudimentary tasks, they will not have the adequate skeletal muscle to support their spine and skeletal frame and have an increased risk of falls. Ailments such as chronic back pain and arthritis can be exacerbated by malnutrition due to this decreased muscle density, leading to increased pain and decreased mobility.
Morbidity and Mortality
Malnutrition in the elderly patients is a serious issue that can have profound effects on the quality of life, duration of life and life threatening disease processes. Disease processes such as heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias, anemia, stroke, cardiac failure, diabetes and infectious processes are all affected by malnutrition. Elderly patients generally speaking have far more co-morbidities than normal healthy adults and their bodies are far less likely to compensate for the nutritional shortfalls than you or I. Malnutrition combined with life threatening disease processes heightens the stress and strain on the body’s critical systems, increasing the risk of cardiac arrest and other life threatening complications. Electrolyte imbalances affect the way our body’s cells function and this can be detrimental in the elderly.
Increased recovery time and hospital stays
Elderly patients suffering from malnutrition have increased recovery times and are generally required to stay in hospital longer as a result. Their bodies are unable to heal as well due to lack of nutrients and seemingly small injuries can lead to far more detrimental issues. These effects impact greatly on their mental state and the psycho-social aspect of family life, placing greater emotional strain on all involved. Increased hospital stays leads to decreased bed space in hospitals and compounds an already overflowing system.
Malnutrition is a major concern in the elderly patient. It has huge impacts on their health status, mental state, mortality rates and emotional impacts on their families. It is an extremely preventable issue that unfortunately in this day and age is still quite prevalent in society. In a perfect world we would all receive exactly what the body requires, but unfortunately it is not a perfect world. Make sure you pay close attention to elderly patients and ensure that they are getting the dietary requirements they need.
Andy has been working in the aged care industry over the last 4 years distributing mobility aids to nursing homes. When he is not working, Andy is a regular blogger.