Malnutrition in Older Adults: Anorexia of Aging

Nov 23, 2020

Malnutrition in Older Adults: Anorexia of Aging

This is part 2 of 4 in a series written by KovirPage LLC's social work intern, Brianna Burke of Traverse City, Michigan.

As mentioned yesterday in part 1, recent research has demonstrated that malnutrition in older adults could be more serious, and could result in a condition known as anorexia of aging. Researcher Landi (2016) defines anorexia of aging as a natural result of the aging process, in which older adults lose their sense of taste, as well as their drive to eat adequate nutrients. This issue is important for older adults, particularly given research showing that anorexia of aging is associated with increased morbidity and mortality (Landi, 2016).

With the knowledge of how detrimental anorexia of aging can be for older adults, it is important for those working with seniors to be aware of the different factors that can contribute to the onset of anorexia of aging. Researchers state that one of the most important aspects that influence one’s desire to eat is their sense of taste and smell, which often deteriorate as people age (Landi, 2016).

Physiological factors also play a role in decreased appetite; for example, as people age, their gastrointestinal satiety signals increase, as their central orexigenic signals decrease (Volkert, 2013). These physiological changes contribute to older adults losing their appetite and causes their stomachs to feel satiated more quickly (Landi, 2016). Another contributing factor to older adults’ loss of appetite is due to hormonal changes that affect the production of ghrelin, which is the hormone in the body that stimulates hunger (Landi, 2016). In addition, medical factors also can contribute to the onset of anorexia of aging, such as gastrointestinal diseases as well as hypermetabolism (Landi, 2016).

Although physiological factors have a large impact on nutrition in older adults, it is also important to consider lifestyle factors when discussing seniors and malnutrition. As people age, their lifestyle often undergoes many changes, and these social and physical changes can greatly affect an individual’s desire to eat, or their ability to attain adequate nutrition. According to researcher Landi (2016), physical factors such as one’s cooking skills, ability to get food, and mobility to prepare food, can all impact older adults’ risk of having anorexia of aging.

Furthermore, social factors can also play a role in the development of anorexia of aging. Researcher Landi (2016) states that living alone is a major risk factor for anorexia of aging; in addition, for older adults living in facilities or hospitals, if the staff does not accommodate their taste preferences, this could also impact their consumption of adequate nutrients, which could ultimately lead to this condition. Although not all seniors who suffer from malnutrition may be classified as having anorexia of aging, it is an important phenomenon to be aware of when working with older adults.

The Consequences of Malnutrition in Older Adults

Malnutrition in older adults is a serious health problem that can have devastating consequences for seniors. As mentioned above, perhaps the most alarming risk associated with malnutrition in older adults is their increased risk of morbidity and mortality (Wolters et al., 2019). Furthermore, according to researcher Griffin (2020), malnutrition in older adults is also associated with increased frailty, as well as reduced functioning in daily life activities. In addition, malnutrition is also associated with being at higher risk of “adverse health outcomes” and lower quality of life (Griffin, 2020, p. 7). Seniors who suffer from malnutrition are also more likely to spend more time in emergency departments, such as hospitals (Griffin, 2020). These negative health and life outcomes can have a devastating impact on senior citizens, and it is therefore more important to be aware of the dangers associated with malnutrition in older adults.


More on How to Screen for Malnutrition tomorrow...

Written by Brianna Burke, BSW Candidate, KovirPage LLC Intern




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Griffin, O. (2020). The prevalence of malnutrition and impact on patient outcomes among older adults presenting at an Irish emergency department: a secondary analysis of the OPTI-MEND trial. BMC Geriatrics, 20(1), 455.

Landi, C. (2016). Anorexia of Aging: Risk Factors, Consequences, and Potential Treatments. Nutrients, 8(2), 69–69.

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National Institute on Aging. (2020). How smell and taste change as you age. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

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Wolters, M., Volkert, D., Streicher, M., Kiesswetter, E., Torbahn, G., O’Connor, E., O’Keeffee, M., Kelly, M., O’Herlihy, E., O’Toole, P., Timmons, S., O’Shea, E., Kearney, P., Van Zwienon-Pot, J., Visser, M., Maitre, I., Van Wymelbeke, V., Sulmont-Rossé, C., Nagel, G., Flechtner-Mors, M., Goisser, S., Teh, R., and Hebestreit, A. (2019). Prevalence of malnutrition using harmonized definitions in older adults from different settings- a MaNuEl study. Clinical Nutrition. 38(5). 2389-2398.

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