Researchers have identified a number of risk factors that may increase your chance of becoming malnourished as you get older. These include physical, social, and medical factors. 

Physical risk factors

  • General loss of appetite
  • Bad teeth or problems with chewing
  • Problems with swallowing, causing choking or food going down “the wrong way”
  • A feeling of being full too early
  • Dexterity problems, such as severe arthritis that may make it difficult to hold utensils or feed oneself
  • Sensory problems, such as changes in taste, smell, and vision
  • Overall reduction in ability to digest and absorb many foods (because older people produce less stomach acid and digestive enzymes)
  • Mobility or transportation difficulties that make food shopping too much of a challenge

Social risk factors

  • Living alone (particularly for older men)
  • Living in a hospital, nursing home, or rehabilitation center
  • Financial issues (for example, having to choose between purchasing food and paying for other necessary expenses such as medicines, heating bills, or rent/mortgage)
  • Limited education about healthy nutrition
  • Cultural or religious traditions, allergies, or food intolerances that may limit food options

Medical risk factors

  • Recent surgery or hospital stay
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Cognitive impairment (dementia of any kind, such as Alzheimer’s Disease)
  • Inability to exercise
  • Depression
  • Chronic or acute pain
  • Medications that decrease appetite, prevent nutrients from being absorbed, or upset digestion (causing constipation or other intestinal problems)
  • Medical conditions that require people to limit their intake of salt, fat, protein, or sugar, making foods bland and tasteless

Last Updated August 2020