Some view declines in strength and vitality as a natural part of aging, particularly for the very old. While age can impact lean body mass, strength-building exercises and good nutrition can go a long way to help support active aging.
However, for up to one in two older adults, active aging is threatened by malnutrition. Malnutrition Awareness Week™ (September 24-28) is a good time to focus on steps to keep older adults healthy. Malnutrition Awareness Week™ was established by the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) to increase awareness, offer education on its signs and treatment, and drive progress toward early nutrition intervention.
1) Know the signs of malnutrition. Malnutrition is simply defined as a lack of proper nutrients, including a lack of protein, calories, and/or vitamins. For older adults, poor nutrition often leads to loss of muscle, even in older adults who are overweight or obese. Signs of malnutrition include:
• Unplanned weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Only able to eat small amounts or not able to eat
• Swelling or fluid accumulation
• Feeling weak or tired
You can download a poster illustrating these warning signs at the ASPEN Malnutrition Solution Center. Also available is a video that can be shared with older adults and their families on how to talk to healthcare professionals about nutrition.
2) Educate yourself and your staff about implementing malnutrition screening and interventions. Older adult malnutrition has many causes and risk factors, including loss of appetite and lack of ability to chew and swallow; dementia, isolation, depression and other mental health risk factors; diabetes, cancer, and heart disease; and food insecurity. Interventions for malnutrition can include nutrition counseling, oral nutrition supplements, home or community meals programs, and other supports and services.
During Malnutrition Awareness Week, ASPEN offers a series of educational webinars. Resources are also available through the Defeat Malnutrition Today coalition, of which ICAA is a member. You can access the Malnutrition Awareness Week™ webinars for free, using the Defeat Malnutrition Today access code MAW-DMT.
3) Integrate quality malnutrition care into care transitions. When older adults lose muscle, they are at greater risk of falls, frailty, and chronic illnesses as well as a worsening of pre-existing chronic diseases. Malnutrition can lead to a 300% increase in healthcare costs for admitted hospital patients and a four to six day increase in length of hospital stay. It can also lead to increased risk of death.
In March, ICAA joined with a multi-stakeholder group of health and community leaders and advocates for a national Dialogue, "Advancing Patient-Centered Malnutrition Care Transitions," to focus on developing real-world solutions to better integrate nutrition risk identification and care into existing care transition pathways and accountable care models. The Dialogue yielded specific recommendations for screening and nutrition care, patient education and shared decision-making, and data infrastructure. Helping improve the nutritional care for older adults as they transition across care settings will better support active aging.
Please participate in Malnutrition Awareness Week™ activities! Together, we can keep older adults healthy and support active aging.
Meredith Ponder Whitmire
Policy Director, Defeat Malnutrition Today Coalition