Care & Treatment

A healthcare professional must find out the cause of malnutrition before recommending treatment. Your healthcare professional may:

  • Do a nutritional assessment
  • Ask about your medications because they can affect appetite and ability to use nutrition
  • Ask about use of supplements
  • Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI - a measure of body fat)
  • Ask about an unplanned weight loss.
  • Do some laboratory tests to measure nutrition
  • Discuss your access to healthy foods
  • Discuss mental health problems that may affect your eating, such as depression and use of alcohol.


Treating malnutrition depends on the source of the problem. For example, treating poorly fitting dentures or painful teeth can promote health eating. Or low vitamin B12 levels might require a supplement. A person may be dehydrated and simply need to drink more fluids. Medications may need adjustment.

Using drugs to increase a person’s appetite does not appear to prolong life and can cause serious side effects among older adults.

Severe Malnutrition

Some cases of malnutrition may be so severe that it may be necessary to use other ways of getting enough good nutrition. Options are:

  • Feeding a person by hand
  • Feeding by tube into a person’s digestive system or an intravenous line (also called an IV), which goes into a person’s vein.

These feeding methods can be effective sometimes, such as when a person has a temporary swallowing problem after a stroke or surgery.

When a person is dying, they will lose interest in eating and drinking. During this time, a person’s decisions about avoiding feeding tubes and other such measures need to be honored. Also, many health problems are linked to feeding tubes. They generally do not prolong life when a person is dying, particularly when someone has dementia.

Counseling is helpful for older people trying to eat well. You can find a registered dietitian in your area by visiting the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Combating Overnutrition

Obesity helps cause many chronic health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer.   

The best way to deal with obesity is to decide on a target weight that is appropriate for your height and body type, and to aim for gradual weight loss.

Decrease your calorie intake by:

  • Eating fewer high calorie foods
  • Eating more nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods, such as vegetables and grains
  • Reducing portion sizes

Dietitians or nutritionists can help find a diet that you can enjoy while you try to take off the pounds. Being active will also help.

Clinical trials of weight-loss drugs included very few older adults. Therefore the safety and effectiveness of these types of drugs on older adults these drugs is not known.


Last Updated January 2023

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