Undernutrition and the elderly, why do we care and what can we do about it? | BrightStar Downtown Houston

Posted on December 31, 2012


We care about undernutrition in the elderly because each of us can make a difference in the lives of family and friends.

Our bodies are very complex systems and a lack of nutrition means they don’t function properly.  Undernutrition makes infections worse because the body lacks anti-oxidants (to mop up harmful free radicals) and the nutrients needed to maintain immunity.  Also, undernutrition can cause the linings of the gut and respiratory systems to be weak so pathogens can easily invade.

Once an infection takes hold they increase the risk of undernutrition because sick people eat less, absorb fewer nutrients, lose nutrients (e.g. in diarrhea) and/or have increased nutrient needs (e.g. fever).

AND, there it is, what can be a deadly spiral, and it is avoidable.

During the course of study one goes through to become a CSA there are many good questions asked.  In my opinion, the best one during my study was, “Is this a normal part of aging?”

In a society where many older people live in their own homes we expect older individuals to do what they can to take care of themselves.  Nutrition is a central aspect of self-care, and yet older, home-dwelling people are at risk of undernutrition.

Why is this?  Is it just a normal part of aging?  No, it isn’t.  It can be the result of other factors related to aging but it is something that can be avoided if we work at it.

  • We know that being able to take care of yourself in daily life is important, as is receiving help when needing it.
  • Working at being physically and socially active and engaged may stimulate the appetite. Having company at meals is important and missed when living alone.
  • Being present and taking each day by day, as well as considering oneself in the light of past time and previous experiences and looking ahead, is central, even when having fears for the future and the end of life.

What can we do about it?

We need to be aware that older people living alone, who feel helpless, and are inactive are especially vulnerable to undernutrition.

How do we fight this?  There is a theme in the points above and that is engagement with others.

Companionship is a wonderful thing, the ability to share, talk and do things with someone else.  At BrightStar we provide companionship caregivers who do that and can provide transportation.  Social events, something as simple as going to a card game at the local Senior Center or event at a church, synagogue or mosque are once again within reach.

Don’t confuse aging with a symptom of something else.  The Serenity Prayer states it very simply.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Undernutrition in the elderly is something we can change.

If you would like to discuss a situation with yourself or someone you know and how we can help please give us a call at  832-730-1755.

If you need help with the cost of companion care please call as we have many suggestions on resources that you may find helpful.

If you, your loved one or their spouse is a veteran please check out our series on Veterans Benefits. VA benefits for veterans over 65: Basic PensionVA benefits for veterans over the age of 65: Housebound Pension and Aid and Attendance Pension



Tomstad ST, S. U. (2012). Lived experiences of self-care among older, home-dwelling individuals identified to be at risk of undernutrition. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 319-327.

Tomstad ST, S. U. (2012). Living alone, receiving help, helplessness, and inactivity are strongly related to risk of undernutrition among older home-dwelling people. International Journal of General Medicine, 231-240.

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