Malnutrition in Older Adults – Urgent Need for Action: A Plea for Improving the Nutritional Situation of Older Adults

Volkert D.
Gerontology. 2013 Feb 8. [Epub ahead of print]

Source:  Institute for Biomedicine of Aging, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Nuremberg, Germany.

During the past decades, malnutrition has attracted increasing scientific attention and is by now regarded as a true geriatric syndrome characterized by multifactorial causality, identified by symptoms and accompanied by frailty, disability and poor outcome. This viewpoint summarizes our present knowledge and the usual current handling of malnutrition in older people and highlights the urgent need for action in this field. Age-related changes in the complex system of appetite regulation, resulting in the so-called anorexia of aging, predispose older adults to a decrease in food intake which may lead to malnutrition, if additional risk factors like health or social problems occur. Consequently, malnutrition is widespread in the older population, notably in those who are institutionalized. Despite the fact that effective interventions are available, prevention and treatment of malnutrition do not currently receive appropriate attention. As an important first step towards better awareness, screening for malnutrition should become a mandatory integral part of the comprehensive geriatric assessment. Furthermore, practical local guidelines should be implemented in all geriatric hospital wards and nursing homes in order to improve nutritional care in the daily routine. Important to note is that reasonable nutritional management is not possible without qualified staff in adequate numbers allowing appropriate individual nutritional care. Regarding future research, studies at the cellular, metabolic and clinical levels and the linking of information from different research approaches are required to better understand the transition from good nutritional health and independence of old people to malnutrition, functional impairment and poor health. In parallel to well-designed observational and intervention studies, standardized documentation of nutritional information in daily routine would enable the uniform collection of data for research as well as for political decisions. In summary, the time is ripe for better inclusion of nutrition in geriatric health care. This will not only bring about improved nutritional status and outcome, and thus individual benefit for the affected person, but also economic benefits both for the institution and the health-care system.