Your once-husky dad has lost his appetite and four pants sizes. Your mom, a lifelong gourmet, has switched from French food to French fries and the kind of cereal she wouldn’t let you eat as a kid.
On the list of things that can go wrong, a small appetite or a taste for junk food seems minor and easily explained — even predictable. A decreased appetite is a frequent side effect of aging. When taste and smell get dull, the jacked-up flavors of processed food can become more appealing.
In truth, either behavior can spawn a crisis: malnutrition. And because the outward signs are the same as problems associated with age — falling, anemia, slow healing and fragile bones — it can escape notice. Even healthy eaters who maintain weight can be running near empty because vitamin and mineral absorption decrease with age.
If you are concerned your loved one is underweight, undermined by diet, or possibly undernourished, you’ll want to consult an expert. And since health professionals can’t fix what they don’t know about, you’ll want to gather the information the doctor needs to help your loved one.
Preventing Malnutrition: Step by Step
Step 1. See a doctor
If you’ve noticed a change in your loved one’s appetite or weight, make an appointment with the healthcare provider for a nutritional evaluation.
You may request:
- A Nutritional Risk Screening (NRS) and a Mini Nutritional Assessment (MNA) to determine if the patient has or is at risk of malnutrition
- Lab tests for nutrient absorption
Step 2. Consider possible reasons your loved one might be undernourished:
- Absorption of fewer nutrients
- Medications (may upset digestion or nutrient absorption, or reduce appetite)
- Chronic illness
- Dental issues
- Difficulty swallowing
- Mourning (the loss of a partner, friends, pet or their own stamina and independence)
- Restricted diet
- Inability to afford adequate groceries
- Sensitivity to a certain food group
- Recent hospital stay
- Unidentified physical issue