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 Body Mass Index (BMI)

You may be at risk of malnutrition if you have unintentionally lost 10 pounds or more, or if you have lost 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