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Malnutrition: A hidden epidemic in older Americans

Malnutrition can affect anyone, but a group that is especially at risk is older Americans. As many as one in two older adults are at risk for malnutrition.

The nonprofit Alliance for Aging Research has launched a campaign to spotlight this hidden epidemic through an animated “pocket film” about malnutrition in older adults. The film, titled “Malnutrition: A Hidden Epidemic in Older Adults,” shows how this condition, often without obvious symptoms, can jeopardize the health and independence of older adults. It also informs viewers about how to prevent malnutrition, how to spot the signs of the condition, and steps to take to regain their nutritional health.

Malnutrition does not just happen to seniors who suffer from hunger, or who do not have access to healthy food. Older adults are more likely to have chronic conditions that put them at risk for malnutrition. Cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions can impact appetite, make eating difficult, change metabolism, and require dietary restrictions. Alarmingly, the increased economic burden in the U.S. for disease-associated malnutrition in older adults is estimated at $51.3 billion each year.

Older adults are also hospitalized more frequently and are more likely to be in long-term care facilities, both factors which put them at heightened risk of malnutrition. As many as 65 percent of hospitalized older adults could face malnutrition.

“We do not often think about malnutrition as a problem in the U.S., which contributes to the fact that this serious issue is frequently overlooked in older adults,” says Alliance Vice President of Health Programs Lindsay Clarke. “Without proper nutrition, our bodies cannot stay healthy or fight off disease. Malnutrition can cause compromised immune systems, frailty and sarcopenia, loss of independence, and further complicate treatment for other diseases. Our new pocket film is a much-needed educational resource about both the seriousness of the disease and how it can be prevented and treated. For health care professionals, this film can serve as a valuable teaching tool to share with patients and their family caregivers.”

Some of the areas the film covers include:

  • Who is at risk for malnutrition
  • The debilitating impact of malnutrition on older adults
  • Tips for identifying malnutrition
  • How malnutrition can be treated and prevented