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Friday, August 1, 2014
Midsummer is a great time to consider the importance of nutritional health, as there is an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables in markets and roadside stands. As professionals, we are aware of associations found between eating a healthy diet and well-being. The season provides a perfect backdrop for us to renew our commitment to eat more healthy foods and to promote the nutritional health of the older people we serve.
Remember these old sayings: "We are what we eat" or "An apple a day . . ." etc. These well-known truisms continue to spur many people to make conscious decisions to eat a healthy diet even though the ease of high fat, cholesterol-laden fast foods provide ever-present temptations. Promoting nutritional health becomes critical as we age because of the significant impact that natural changes exert on dietary intake. For example, the status of oral health, dentition, digestion, absorption, and medication interactions may converge to negatively impact our diet and lead to a poor diet or malnutrition.
Malnutrition and Weight Stats
Older people by living arrangements
Over 75 +Years of Age
* Malnutrition is possible in those overweight or obese1
As professionals, we know that many diseases are linked with unhealthy nutrition which increases the vulnerability of older adults to develop chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke. We also understand aging involves inherent social, cultural, and financial issues that may exert influence on nutritional health. The combination of chronic illness and additional age-related challenges that people experience has the potential to increase nutritional risk. We have a responsibility to include routine nutritional health screening and promotion to help maintain and optimize the overall health of older people.
Several nutrition screening tools are available for use by professional health providers. Here are two screening instruments for your consideration:
There are also 10 questions that an older person or someone who is caregiver for the person answers. Each question is scored 1-4 under a "yes" column and totaled for a nutritional risk score:
- 3-5=moderate risk,
- 6 or more=high nutritional risk.2
Tooth loss, mouth pain
Reduced social contact
Involuntary weight loss or gain
Need for assistance in self-care
Elderly (age>80 years)
Based on good evidence, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends educational counseling as beneficial to older adults at increased risk for chronic illness as they age. Outcomes of counseling interventions indicate that older people made changes in their nutrition when the counseling was focused on diet-related chronic illnesses.3 The literature provides abundant nutritional guidelines for older adults along with many recommendations on dietary interventions.
GERO GEMS are a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, Gero Gems is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.
Last Reviewed: Jun 05, 2009
Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati