Malnutrition is a Hidden Epidemic among Elderly Latinos


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More than a quarter of the country’s senior citizens are hungry or at nutritional risk, New America Media reports.

Researchers at the Gerontological Society of America determined that two-thirds of older, hospitalized patients are poorly nourished.iStock_000019788670_Double-576x384

Malnutrition is especially challenging for individuals older than 65 as it can trigger or worsen chronic diseases. Poor nutrition may increase the chances of infection, delay normal healing and result in longer hospital stays. Malnutrition among Latino elders is a greater crisis as they tend to be among the fiscally poorer.

“Malnutrition literally means ‘bad’ nutrition,” said Lauri M. Wright, a researcher and nutritionist from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “A big issue for our senior population is the lack of protein. Without enough of it, their immune system is not as strong; even medications cannot be transported to the body effectively. They may be getting enough calories, but if their diet doesn’t have enough nutrients, this is what happens.”

Poor nutrition affects the health and wellbeing of elders, but it can also create significant financial distress. According to the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, medical bills for malnourished patients can be exponential compared to those who are properly nourished. The cost associated with malnutrition among older adults is estimated to be $51 billion annually.

“Many Latino elders have low income, so access to healthy foods may be a problem for them,” said Noel Chávez, associate professor emeritus and nutritionist at the University of Illinois, Chicago School of Public Health.

Key factors for malnutrition include isolation, poor dental health, and appetite loss. Medications, poverty, and food insecurity from a lack of access to healthy food options also plays a significant part in malnutrition.

“Many times seniors have to make a decision between buying medication and buying food,” said Wright.

Not much has yet been done to address the problem. Only two years ago, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics along with the American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) recommended to U.S. healthcare professionals to define, diagnose, and document malnutrition.

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