OpenPlacement Community > OpenPlacement Blog > Malnutrition In The Elderly Population (INFOGRAPHIC)

Malnutrition In The Elderly Population (INFOGRAPHIC) Lara Baez

June 4th, 2014

Malnutrition is a widespread and largely preventable issue for America’s elderly population. It can be found in care facilities, hospitals, and independent living alike. With over 15% of the elderly population facing the threat of hunger, we need to raise awareness by spreading the word about malnutrition, and do what we can to reduce its reach.

Please like and share this Infographic if you find it helpful, and comment your thoughts or any experiences you’ve had below—we’d love to hear them! Also, check out our other helpful Infographics here.

Malnutrition Infographic

Malnutrition In The Elderly Population

The Issue

  • Nearly 1 in 6 seniors is threatened by hunger
  • Over 10% of seniors living independently face hunger
  • 10-50% of seniors hospitalized for acute illness face hunger
  • 10-70% of seniors in long care units and nursing homes face hunger
  • The problem is nationwide: Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama report over 20% of their seniors face hunger. California ranks 11th worst, with 17.19% of its seniors facing hunger.

Contributing Factors

  • Health Concerns: These include chronic illness, medication side effects, and dental issues. 
  • Dietary Restrictions: Many seniors are instructed to maintain low sodium, sugar, and cholesterol diets. This may lead to a lack of essential nutrients.
  • Limited Income: Some seniors may face financial struggles, which could limit their access to healthy food.
  • Reduced Social Contact: Seniors may be isolated, and as result may miss out on dining as a social activity.
  • Depression: Depression from grief, loneliness, failing health, or lack of mobility can cause a decreased appetite.
  • Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol interferes with digestion, as well as the absorption of various nutrients.

Red Flags

  • Observe your loved one’s eating habits: If possible, observe them during meal times to assess their food habits. If they live in long-term care, try visiting during a meal. 
  • Watch for weight loss: This can be done either by direct monitoring with weigh-ins, or by observing other factors, for example, how their clothes fit.
  • Be aware of medications: Prescription drugs can affect appetite, digestion, and nutrient absorption.
  • Other red flags: These include poor wound healing, easy bruising, and dental difficulties.

Associated Risks

  • Weakened immune system and thus a higher risk of infection
  • Poor wound healing
  • Muscle weakness and loss of strength can lead to falls and fractures
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Higher cost of care due to more frequent doctors’ visits, longer hospital stays, and higher likelihood of readmittance.

What You Can Do

  • Engage doctors: If you notice weight loss, work with your loved one’s physicians to address any contributing factors. Then, assess the need for referral to a dietician. 
  • Encourage eating nutrient-rich foods: Add nutrient-rich foods to your loved one’s diet. Try nut butter on toast and fruit, chopped nuts in cereal, extra egg whites in an omelet, and cheese in soups, sandwiches and noodles.
  • Consider outside help: If necessary, hire a home health aid to shop for groceries or prepare meals. You might also try home visits from nurses and dietitians. Alternatively, consider Meals on Wheels or other community companies.
  • Make meals social events: Seniors often miss out on the social aspect of mealtimes. If they live independently, try inviting them for meals at your home, or prepare a meal together at their place. If they life in a home, try visiting during mealtime and eating with them.
  • Provide money-saving tips: Encourage your loved one to bring a shopping list to the grocery store, look for sales, coupons, and fliers, and search for generic brands. You might also suggest frequenting restaurants that provide discounts for older adults.
  • Encourage physical activity: Regular exercise, even if it’s light, stimulates appetite, and promotes the strengthening of bones and muscles.

The Bottom Line: Identifying and treating nutrition issues early can promote good health, independence, and increased longevity. Take the seps you need to ensure your loved one’s nutrition.


About Lara Baez

Lara is the Social Media Strategist summer intern at OpenPlacement. She is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD), and hopes to go to medical school and become a physician.


  1. Rose Clifford June 17, 2014

    This is really useful Lara. I’m a nutritionist and I work at Iona Senior Services in Washington, DC. We are the lead agency for the DC Office on Aging in Ward 3. One thing to note is that under the Older American’s act, there are state-sponsored Senior Nutrition Programs – home delivered meals, lunch and socialization “Meals With Friends” offered at senior wellness centers and other sites, and free nutrition counseling/intervention (grant funded). We also provide free nutrition supplements, like Ensure Plus, Boost Glucose Control, and Nepro. So, depending on the area an older person lives in, there are lots of resources available. Area Agencies on Aging would have lists of resources and services in a particular area. DC has lots of good services and resources for older adults. Many older adults are also eligible for services such as home health aides and companions, and SNAP benefits – all which help improve access to food, meals, and better nutritional status.

  2. karolyn van putten June 21, 2014

    thanks for the infographic, Lara. it captures the information succinctly and well, however, i don’t understand how the 70% figure in the “issue” section is determined. can you explain that?

    1. Lara Baez June 23, 2014

      Hi Karolyn,
      In my research, I found that an estimated 10 to 70% of seniors in long care units and nursing homes face undernutrition. I realize that is a large range. The source ( gives references for those numbers if you would like to look at them.


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