March is National Nutrition Month®, making it a great time to help older adults advocate for their own health by focusing on adequate nutrition. Good nutrition supports the physical dimension of wellness and can help individuals maintain or improve both their health and functional ability.
Ensuring adequate nutrition is vital for older adults. Did you know that up to one out of every two older adults is at risk for malnutrition?
Malnutrition poses a significant safety risk for older adults and contributes to avoidable harm. Older adults are frequently at risk for malnutrition because of physiological, psychosocial and economic factors. Further, poor diet and hunger due to chronic disease or food insecurity are common issues for older adults.
By helping older adults and their families understand the risks and signs of malnutrition, you can help them become their own health advocates, which can provide a greater sense of control, improved treatment adherence and better health outcomes. In addition, maintaining good nutrition can help prevent health and safety complications down the road. A number of resources related to nutrition and chronic disease are available to help older adults learn how to advocate for their own nutrition.
Few health objectives or key health indicators address the danger of malnutrition for older adults, and malnutrition care is often overlooked in most prevention and wellness, patient safety, care transition and population health strategies. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has written that malnutrition screening and assessment are important for better outcomes and has recognized that hospitals have an opportunity to improve nutrition screening and assessments. Yet CMS has not included malnutrition measures in its quality reporting programs, even though electronic clinical quality measures for malnutrition are available, illustrating the insufficient attention given to preventing and treating malnutrition among older adults.
Defeat Malnutrition Today is a coalition of more than 85 organizations and stakeholders-including the ICAA-working to promote awareness of this problem and to defeat older adult malnutrition. Our efforts include helping older adults and their caregivers advocate for policies aimed to reduce and prevent malnutrition. Working together, our goal is to achieve recognition of malnutrition as a key indicator and vital sign of older adult health risk.
Meredith Whitmire is the policy director of Defeat Malnutrition Today.