NEW YORK, 22 may 2009- Up to one in six older adults living on their own may not be getting adequate nutrition, a study from Sweden suggests.
Researchers found that among 579 adults ages 75 to 80 years, nearly 15 percent were at risk of malnutrition, based on their diet, weight and recent weight loss, and physical and mental well-being.
Women were more likely to be undernourished than men; nearly 19 percent were at risk of malnutrition, compared with almost 11 percent of men.
In addition, men and women who were depressed or described themselves as unhealthy were more likely than others to become at risk of malnutrition over the next two to four years.
Dr. Yvonne Johansson and her colleagues at Linkoping University report the findings in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Malnutrition and dehydration are common in nursing homes, but older adults living at home can also be at risk, for various reasons -- such as poor appetite and mobility problems that limit their ability to shop and cook.
The current findings suggest that doctors should regularly assess older adults' nutritional status, symptoms of depression and their perceptions of their own health, according to Johansson.
"This makes it possible to individualize the care of older home-living people in cooperation with different professionals in health and medical care and home-care services," she told Reuters Health.
Older adults can also take steps to ensure they are adequately nourished, according to Johansson. She suggested eating several smaller meals and snacks throughout the day; people's appetites often wane as they age, and many older adults may not be able to manage large meals.
But even though older adults' calorie needs may not be what they used to be, Johansson said, their nutrient needs stay the same -- or may increase. So it's important, she noted, to keep this in mind in meal planning, and choose foods rich in nutrients like protein, fiber, "good" fats, vitamins and minerals.