10 Danger Signs of Malnutrition and Dehydration Among Elderly & What Should You Do to Manage It

By: Rosemarie Tamunday Casanova

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There are many preventable health challenges that the elderly would have to face at that stage of their life. Malnutrition and dehydration should be a part of them.

Malnutrition and dehydration to elderly person can lead to a number of serious health problems. A form of severe dehydration in particular can be fatal and should not be ignored. Malnutrition on the other hand is costly, it adds extra attention and financial cost to the family members for it requires an expert caregiver to bring back the lost nutrition of the elderly.

However, getting a clear understanding on how to spot the danger signs can be a good preventive measure to manage the malnutrition and dehydration and avoid further complications.

The Importance of Proper Nutrition and Hydration to the Elderly Community

With aging comes a lot of changes in the body, one of which is the body’s need for nutrients. While some nutrients may be required in greater amounts, the need for some others may be reduced.

Elderly people are particularly prone to malnutrition and realising this, the world health organisation is being strongly called upon to develop a guideline which addresses the special nutritional needs of the increasing elderly population group.

Adequate food and fluids are pivotal factors to aging gracefully. A deficiency in either or both can pose a threat to the health and well-being of the elderly and may sometimes be the trigger for morbidities and ultimately, mortality of an elderly person. It is therefore important that the elderly are adequately kept hydrated and on the right diet plan.

Incidents of malnutrition and dehydration have been reported more in the elderly in nursing homes. The Dieticians Association of Australia in 2013 found out that 40-70% of aged care residents were malnourished and that figure has remained relatively stagnant over the years. In the UK NHS system, 20% of elderly people living in UK care homes were dehydrated, while 34% were malnourished. This clearly indicates that the malicious duo is indeed a silent crippler of the quality of life an elderly person can lead.

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The elderly community are particularly prone to these conditions because of the dependence that comes with aging. Furthermore, aging presents with it, a propensity for certain health conditions such as cardiovascular incidents, stroke, and their associated complications such as speech difficulties, memory loss, paralysis, and bed confinement. With these, the elderly are further forced to be dependent on other people for their upkeep.

Some physiological changes may also occur with age that may alter how a person perceives their need for rehydration. An elderly person may have a reduced function of thirst or reduced kidney functions. People with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory affectations may forget to eat or drink enough water for the day. These disruptions in judgment may also be as result of medications they are on for certain other conditions . People on certain medications like laxatives and diuretics are known to require more fluid intake and may suffer from dehydration if denied that.

Addressing the Problem of Malnutrition and Dehydration Concerning the Elderly

Here, we will review the health concerns of malnutrition and dehydration, the quick steps to diagnose these red flags and the best approach to take in resolving these problems.

It is important to note that the challenges can be different for elderly people who live with family and loved ones as opposed to those in care homes. The challenges are also individualistic and should be tackled as one, as one technique may work for one and not for the other. Each comes with its own peculiar proclivities.

On one hand, elderly people living at home with family even though they may have more personal care time and closer monitoring, may suffer due to lack of required knowledge from the caregiver who is simply available because of family ties and not necessarily due to professional experience. This may leave them not knowing essentially what is required of them in taking adequate care of the elderly family member.

On the other hand, elderly people in home senior care will likely face a different set of challenges. Such centers may have a general routine and time table for food and fluids amongst others. A few of the elderly people in such homes may however not benefit from such routines as they may require specific attention, preferences or requirements at particular times and these choices or specific needs may go unidentified for a significant amount of time until the signs begin to manifest. Some care homes may be short-staffed or have more elderly people than the capacity of the center. Inadequate training of staff or lax employment criteria may also lead to the employment of less qualified care givers who could cause more harm than good to the elderly in their care either by their ignorance or poor work ethics.

In both situations, the tips that would be discussed below can be of immense help to the care giver and the elderly as well.

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Why are the elderly prone to malnutrition and dehydration?

While anyone can get malnourished or dehydrated, an elderly person is particularly at risk of these. Some of the reasons are:

What are the signs to look out for?

If an elderly is malnourished or dehydrated, one can tell by spotting these telltale signs:

These situations are usually aggravated or even caused by inadequate attention from the care givers which may be as a result of lack of individualized care or lack of appropriate education on the part of the caregiver about appropriate ways of handling elderly subjects. Also, it could be as a result of the need for special care by the elderly person who may require tube feeding, special dietary needs or a specific nutrient deficiency correction.

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What to do when these signs are noticed?

A family member can take up the feeding responsibility from the elderly person. Should it be discovered that an elderly person who was once capable of taking care of themselves starts to neglect certain activities that they’d usually do, such duties should immediately be delegated to a care giver.

Home care aid providers can help with special dietary needs and fluid intake planning and adequate monitoring of their weight, vital signs and wellbeing. Dietary charts and fluid charts can be created, followed and monitored as this will help with accurate corrections and adjustments.

Malnutrition and dehydration can be easily prevented and when already present, can be spotted and managed with easy procedural steps.