Malnutrition is defined as having a diet that provides too little (undernutrition) or too much nutrients (over-nutrition).
In older adults, undernutrition is common due to a variety of reasons, and often results in body weight that is lower than normal.
Undernutrition in the elderly often results in insufficient intakes of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Deteriorating sense of smell and taste, poor dentition, medical conditions and medications being taken influence appetite and food intake.
As important, many elderly are unable to shop or prepare food for themselves. All these can contribute to a poor nutrition status in older adults, resulting in impaired mental function, unhealthy looking skin, and poor wound healing and overall poor quality of life.
Conversely, over-nutrition can also contribute to poor health in the advanced years. These individuals have problems with their cardiovascular function, sleep, joint health and even sexual health.
Over-nutrition has also been linked to higher risk of diabetes, hypertension and accelerated loss of mental function.
Complete and balanced nutrition is essential to address over- and undernutrition.
For the undernourished, supplements that contain both whey and casein, are recommended as they serve as a good protein source, and has been reported to have immune-enhancing, antioxidant and antihypertensive properties, among others.
Probiotics can also help improve gut health and ward off bowel problems, which are quite common among older adults. Optimal intake of antioxidants is also needed to help fight off infections, which commonly occur in the aged, particularly those with poor nutrition.
On the other hand, frail patients with low energy requirements or those who are obese require a different approach. They can benefit from nutritional formulas that have less calories, but still contains the full spectrum of essential nutrients required for optimum health.
Regardless of nutrition status, nutritional supplements that provide the right amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates in an easily measurable form are recommended. In addition, supplements with soluble and insoluble fiber may help reduce constipation, a disorder that is common in the elderly.
Choosing the right nutritional product will go a long way towards achieving optimal health and a longer, more productive life.