With Clinical Dietitian Gemady Langfelder, MS, RD, LDN, CPT
September 18th to 22nd is Malnutrition Awareness Week. Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System joins the campaign to provide the community resources they need in detecting and treating malnutrition.
Proper nutrition through a balanced and varied diet is a central part of maintaining good health. It can improve quality of life on a day-to-day basis, help manage symptoms of chronic disease and generally lead to better outcomes when facing any unexpected health problems later in life. This is also why nutrition plays such an important role during hospitalization, helping to reduce inflammation, maintain muscle mass and promote recovery. On the other hand, when nutrition is poor, it can lead to poorer health outcomes, especially in older adults.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition occurs when the body consistently does not get enough essential nutrients or takes in too much of some, creating a harmful imbalance. This can be caused by improper diet, a digestive disorder or another disease preventing the body from using nutrients properly.
A serious condition, malnutrition has been linked to many serious health complications, including increased mortality, poor immunity, loss of muscle mass, longer length of hospital stays, increased risk of hospital readmission and higher cost of health care. Malnutrition may also lead to higher risk of falls, less independence, and higher risk for infections.
A registered dietitian can work with your physician or healthcare provider to evaluate if you or your loved one is at risk for malnutrition. A registered dietitian can also assist in creating an individualized nutrition plan to enhance your daily nutrition.
Risk Factors for Malnutrition
Malnutrition can affect anyone, but it is more common in older adults ages 65 years and above. Additional factors that increase risk for malnutrition include chronic disease, polypharmacy (use of multiple prescription drugs), memory decline such as dementia, issues with chewing or swallowing, food insecurity and reduced ability to procure, prepare or store food.
Signs of Malnutrition
Recognizing early signs and symptoms of malnutrition is key to preventing its progression. Here are some things to look out for:
- Sudden and unexpected weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle weakness
- Frequent nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Getting sick often
- Swelling in ankles, legs or belly
- Slow-healing wounds
It's always better to stop the problem before it starts. Here are some tips for maintaining good nutrition and preventing malnutrition.
- Shop Smart: Buy foods that are easy to prepare, high in calories and protein, and that you like to eat. Milk, beans, meat and eggs are often good options. And don't be afraid to add some herbs and spices to keep meals interesting.
- Get Social: Ask family and friends to enjoy a meal with you. Go out or stay in, good company can help the appetite either way.
- Eat Often: Try eating 5-6 small meals a day instead of 3 large meals.
- Try Supplements: Finding a good oral nutrition supplement that you enjoy can make a huge difference, as they’re an easy way to get lots of nutrients and calories in small doses.
- Stay Active: Whether weight training or walking, get some activity in your day to maintain strength and stimulate appetite.
Dealing With Malnutrition
Maintaining proper nutrition can be difficult, especially when also dealing with chronic conditions or ailments. For those looking for resources or assistance in maintaining nutrition or battling malnutrition, Sarasota Memorial offers outpatient nutrition counseling with our Registered and Licensed Dietitians, as well as nutrition coaching for athletics, pregnancy, weight loss and overall wellness. Outpatient services include:
- Individual nutrition and lifestyle plans
- Computerized nutrition analysis
- Recipe and kitchen makeovers
- Weight-loss strategies
- Tips for healthy cooking, dining and travel
To learn more about Nutrition Services at Sarasota Memorial or to learn more about our Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program, click here or call (941) 917-7468.
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH's in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master's degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, KY, and ate Doritos and ice cream for dinner last night.