Why seniors don't eat: It's complicated

More than half of older adults who visit emergency departments are either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition, but not because of lack of access to health care, critical illness or dementia. Despite clear signs of malnutrition or risk of malnutrition, more than three-quarters had never previously been diagnosed with malnutrition, according to the results of a study to be published online tomorrow in Annals of Emergency Medicine ("Malnutrition Among Cognitively Intact, Non-Critically Ill Older Adults in the Emergency Department").

"We were surprised by the levels of malnutrition or risk of it among cognitively intact seniors visiting the ER, and even more surprised that most malnourished patients had never been told they were malnourished," said lead study author Timothy Platts-Mills, MD, of the University of North Carolina Department of Emergency Medicine in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Depression and dental problems appear to be important contributors, as is difficulty buying groceries. Given that seniors visit ERs more than 20 million times a year in the U.S., emergency physicians have an opportunity to screen and intervene in ways that may be very helpful without being very costly."

Of patients age 65 and older, 16 percent were malnourished and 60 percent were either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition. Of the malnourished patients, 77 percent denied have been previously diagnosed with . Malnutrition was highest among patients with symptoms of depression (52 percent), those residing in assisted living (50 percent), those with difficulty eating (38 percent) and those reporting difficulty buying groceries (33 percent). Difficulty eating was mostly attributed to denture problems, dental pain or difficulty swallowing.

In this study, nearly all (95 percent) of patients had a , nearly all (94 percent) lived in a private residence and nearly all (96 percent) had some type of health insurance. More than one-third (35 percent) had a college education.

Malnutrition is defined as lacking "adequate calories, protein or other nutrients needed for tissue maintenance and repair."

"For patients who report difficulty buying groceries, Supplemental Nutrition Program, Meals on Wheels, Congregate Meals Programs or community-based food charities can be helpful, although other factors may also need to be addressed," said Dr. Platts-Mills. "The growing role of the as community health resource makes it an essential place for identifying and addressing unmet needs of . Implementation of oral nutritional supplementation is inexpensive and may reduce overall costs by accelerating recovery from illness and reducing readmissions."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Malnutrition: A skeleton in the health care closet

Feb 08, 2011

Many elderly Australians are either admitted to hospital suffering malnutrition, or become malnourished while in hospital, which increases hospital length of stay and health care costs.

Recommended for you

Blending faith and science to combat obesity

9 minutes ago

Science and religion may seem like uneasy partners at times, but when it comes to promoting healthy lifestyles, one UConn Health researcher has shown they can be an effective combination.

Research project puts stroke patients back on their feet

16 minutes ago

Finding the will to exercise routinely can be challenging enough for most people, but a stroke presents even more obstacles. Yet aerobic exercise may be crucial for recovery and reducing the risk of another ...

Air quality and unconventional oil and gas sites

3 hours ago

Research suggesting air pollutants released by unconventional oil and gas production are well over recommended levels in the US is published today in the open access journal Environmental Health. High levels of benzene, hydrog ...

FDA cautions against 'undeclared' food allergens

15 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Some food labels may not reliably list all possible food allergens, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency added that these "undeclared allergens" are the leading cause ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.