Aging & Health A to Z
Diagnosis & Tests
You may be worried about whether you, or a person you care for, are not eating properly. If you are concerned about malnutrition, here are some specific red flags to look out for:
- Bruising easily
- Slow healing of wounds
- Problems with your mouth or teeth
- Weight loss or gain
Weight loss is often easy to spot because your clothes suddenly become much looser and do not fit properly. If you are concerned, speak to a healthcare provider. In addition to ruling out depression or dementia, the provider should evaluate your nutritional status by doing the following things:
- Giving you a physical examination.
- Asking you about your diet and eating habits, and if there have been any changes. Your intake will be compared to the recommended daily intake (RDA) for important nutrients.
- Checking your weight or body mass index (BMI).
- Reviewing your medications (prescription and over-the-counter remedies). Many medicines affect appetite, digestion (including constipation), and nutrient absorption. Many medications may interfere with taste and smell.
- Having you fill out a nutrition questionnaire (such as the Mini Nutritional Assessment).
- Ordering certain lab tests.
- Asking about your daily routine and ability to carry out regular functions.
- Asking you questions about your memory and mood.
Weight and BMI
You may be at risk of malnutrition if you have unintentionally lost 10 pounds or more, or 10% of your body weight, in the last six months. A BMI less than 18.5 kg/m2 may mean you are underweight. A BMI lower than 17 may mean that you have under-nutrition. Losing too much lean body mass is associated with poor wound healing, infections, pressure sores, and lower functional ability.
Meanwhile, a BMI of 30 or more means you are overweight. Poor diet quality and a lack of vitamins and minerals are relatively common among obese older adults, especially obese older women living alone.
Updated: January 2018
Posted: March 2012