According to this article on malnutrition from Johns Hopkins (2021), malnutrition is “the condition that develops when the body is deprived of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.”
Consider for a moment how you feel when you, a fully functioning adult, are hungry. You may become agitated and stressed, you may not think clearly or may be less patient than normal. Now consider that you may not eat adequate food again until the next day or the day after. You may start feeling the effects that a longer period without the needed nutrients will have on your body. In these times of severe stress on the body, the trunk of the body which holds the vital organs needed for survival will receive the majority of the nutrients to continue functioning.
If the nutrients continue to be missing from your system due to malnutrition, other body processes will show depletion: the skin will dry, become pale and thick, it will bruise more easily, you may develop rashes and changes in colouring, and hair loss all over the body may occur. As time continues to pass, the tongue will become swollen or shriveled and potentially cracked, the gums may bleed, your joints will ache and your bones will become softer and tender as the body uses the resources available to keep the vital organs alive. As further vitamins are needed, you will become increasingly sensitive to light and suffer from night blindness due to the missing vitamin A in your body.
Small children will have growth reduction as well as the other symptoms if the malnutrition continues.
For a better understanding of the concerns regarding elder malnutrition watch the video “Nutrition & Aging | Aging Matters | NPT Reports” and answer the questions below.
- What is food insecurity?
- How many seniors are believed to be at risk for malnutrition?
- What barriers to food are noted by the reports?
- What can be done on a wide range practical plan to change seniors’ risk of malnutrition?
Click here for a video transcript in .docx format: Video Transcript.
One interesting effect of malnourishment for a small number of adults is pica, where people will eat items that have no nutritional value. Read “Everything You Need to Know About Pica” if you would like to know more about this rare but fascinating condition.