Learn more about the signs and symptoms of malnutrition and how to help you or a loved one manage it.

According to the British Dietetic Association, malnutrition occurs when you don’t get the correct amount of nutrients from your diet.

Signs of malnutrition: an introduction.

Malnutrition can affect people of all ages, but it is more common among the elderly because as we get older we may find that eating and drinking becomes more difficult, made even harder by the onset of health conditions associated with older age.
Seeing loved ones struggling with nutrition can potentially be distressing and can come as a shock. To help you identify malnutrition in the early stages, here there is a list of the most common signs of malnutrition:
  • Involuntary weight loss
  • Lower appetite
  • Loss of muscle size and strength
  • Lethargy/tiredness
  • Lower interest in eating and drinking
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in the ability to prepare meals
Signs of poor nutrition can be difficult to spot and sometimes are not obvious until malnutrition is advanced. Unintentionally losing weight and losing the desire to eat when older is not a normal sign of ageing. It is not uncommon for older adults to not want to ask for help because it can make them feel vulnerable. If you recognise the symptoms above in yourself or a loved one, it is important to be supportive and seek the advice of your doctor.

Risks and dangers of malnutrition.

Malnutrition is very common in the UK. Data from the Malnutrition Task Force shows that 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. Of these older adults, 93% live in their own homes.
Malnutrition is complex and has many causes and consequences.
 Common causes of malnutrition are:
  • Conditions, such as dysphagia and cancer
  • Nausea and other long term challenges with eating and drinking
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Social isolation and feeling low
  • Medications and their effects, such as sickness and changes in taste and smell
Bear in mind that these causes often coexist.
Common consequences of malnutrition are:
  • Poor immune system, leading to higher change of infections and slower wound healing
  • Loss of muscle size and strength
  • Higher risk of slips, trips and falls
  • More time spent in hospital
  • Lethargy and confusion
  • Reduced independence with daily activities
  • Lower quality of life
One of the major risks of malnutrition is getting into a cycle where malnutrition weakens the immune system and increases the risks of infections, which in turn can worsen malnutrition. To read more about the causes and consequences of malnutrition, head over to the Introduction to Malnutrition webpage by BAPEN.

Signs of malnutrition.

Identifying the signs and symptoms of malnutrition early can make a big difference in helping and supporting our most vulnerable ones.
Let’s dive deeper into each one of the signs of malnutrition listed at the beginning of this article.

Involuntary weight loss
  • This is unplanned weight loss because of eating less or increased nutritional needs as a result of illness. It is most common and sometimes the easiest one to spot because it often comes with body changes, such as looser skin, sunken eyes and overall slimmer frame. Weight loss can also be identified when usual clothes and jewellery, such as a watch, feel looser than normal.
Lower appetite
  • A decrease in appetite can have many causes and is not easy to spot. Nausea and vomiting can be easily identified. A less obvious example is lower portion size, as a result of swallowing difficulties or problems with dentures. Age and lower physical activity can naturally lead to decreased appetite. However, the combination of lower appetite and other signs of malnutrition, mainly weight loss, can be a red flag to take action and consult your doctor for advice.
Loss of muscle size and strength
  • Giving your body less nutrients than needed will eventually lead to loss of muscle size and strength. Muscles produce heat and help regulate body temperature, so a loss in muscle size can lead to feeling colder than usual. This can be easily identified.
  • The loss in muscle size gives way to the loss in muscle strength. Every day tasks, even the minor ones, become harder to complete. For example, a pot of yoghurt may become harder to open as the handgrip weakens. This may be harder to identify, but looking for challenges that arise when carrying out habitual tasks can give some cues. 
  • Over time, eating less can lead to having less energy and feel tired. Tiredness usually presents itself as a general lack of interest in daily activity and more time spent being idle. Being aware of these changes can help you identify malnutrition early.
Lower interest in eating and drinking
  • Lower interest in eating and drinking can manifest as being less thoughtful over what to eat during the day, not wanting to cook food as usual, less interest in how appetising the food is and not enjoying food shopping as much. Lower interest in eating and drinking usually goes hand in hand with lower appetite and tiredness.
Mood changes
  • Having less of the important nutrients we need during the day can lead to changes in mood, such as feeling low, irritable and stressed. What food and how much we eat can have a major effect on our mood. If these mood changes tend to be frequent and long lasting, addressing malnutrition may help improve your mood. It is important to be open about it and consider mental health support available on the NHS website.
Changes in the ability to prepare meals
  • Changes in the ability to eat is often secondary to other conditions. For example, muscle loss and feeling weaker can have an effect on how active you are and your ability to go shopping for food. Changes in smell and taste can also occur due to medications, and this can have an effect on the enjoyment of food.
To know more about malnutrition, the causes and treatments, head over to the Malnutrition Overview page on the NHS website.

To know more about the steps you can take to help tackle malnutrition and increase food intake, please visit the Malnutrition fact Sheet by the British Dietetic Association.

How our meals can help.

Malnutrition can be a big challenge: higher need for nutrients to build energy reserves back up while managing lower appetite and interest in food. At Wiltshire Farm Foods, we understand this challenge. That is why our expert chefs and dietitians have created delicious dishes that are tasty, good looking and nutritious to help you get the most of out of life.

Our Mini Meals Extra is our great range of small, delicious meals specifically created to give the necessary nutrients and satisfying feeling of a meal, but in a smaller more manageable serving. Each meal contain at least 500 calories and minimum of 20 g of protein. Browse our Mini Meals Extra range online or request a brochure for Free.
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