Did you know that one does not need to look emaciated to be malnourished? Individuals experiencing this condition can have a variety of symptoms, where their physical and mental health is affected in different ways.
Research shows that as many as half of patients admitted to the hospital are at a higher risk of malnutrition, especially older adults and individuals with chronic health illnesses such as cancer or arthritis. Plus, the likelihood of being readmitted to the hospital within 30 days is 54 percent higher in malnourished adult inpatients. The good news is that malnutrition can be prevented, and the effects can be reversed when you take action to restore needed nutrients.
What does malnutrition look like?
There are several red flags to help you spot the signs of malnutrition in yourself or a loved one.
- Weight loss — a visual check of how clothing is fitting can be the first clue
- Slow wound healing
- Fluid buildup in the body
- Hollow or sunken appearance
- Bruising and/or dry cracked skin
- Lack of energy
- Disinterest in food and eating
How does malnutrition affect the individual?
The effects of malnutrition can have a profound impact on a person’s health and well-being. Physical and mental health can deteriorate rapidly when an individual is not able to provide their body with necessary nutrients and energy.
- Weak bones and muscles can reduce mobility, making it more challenging to walk, navigate stairs and bathe.
- A reduction in strength often means losing independence, where an individual may have more difficulty lifting grocery bags, carrying laundry and moving from a sitting to standing position.
- Without adequate muscular strength, posture can become stooped causing strain and pain in the neck, back and shoulders.
- The risk of falls increases when strength and mobility are diminished.
- Malnutrition can also affect the immune system, where healing may be slowed after an injury or surgery, and individuals may be more susceptible to illness and infection.
- In relation to mental health, there is a connection between malnutrition, depression and poor sleep quality in older adults.
Preventing malnutrition can provide an opportunity for you or your loved one to improve overall health, prevent chronic illnesses and complications and promote a better quality of life.
Reversing or preventing malnutrition
If you or your loved one is experiencing unintentional weight loss, poor appetite, difficulty eating or other issues that affect your eating pattern, visit with a health care provider. Symptoms may be caused by an underlying physical or mental health condition, medication or a combination of medications or may result when accessibility to food is limited. Identifying why eating habits have changed provides valuable information about what steps may be needed to reverse malnutrition.
Keep it simple when selecting foods and beverages for meals and snacks. Follow these guidelines to help make sure you provide your body with the important nutrients and energy it needs to feel your best.
- Try to eat every 3-5 hours when you are awake. This might include three meals and a snack or two depending on what you prefer.
- Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Produce packs a great vitamin, mineral and fiber punch.
- When possible, include a variety of colorful fruits and veggies in your eating pattern.
- Include sources of protein throughout the day. This might include eggs, fish, chicken, dairy, beef and nuts.
- Enjoy dairy at each meal to keep bones strong and healthy. Milk, yogurt and cheese are excellent options.
- Hydration is important. Drink tea, water, juice and milk and choose foods high in water content like cucumbers and watermelon to provide your body with the fluid it requires.
Mom's Meals® can help
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