How Long Does It Take an Adult to Become Malnourished?

Senior woman playing bingo
Older individuals can be at risk of malnutrition. (Image: Image Source Pink/Image Source/Getty Images)

You may think of malnutrition as the result of not getting enough food, but malnutrition can also occur if you aren't eating the right types of nutrient-rich foods. Malnutrition can be common in adults, especially in the older adult population. Health issues, medications, disability, low income and depression are common contributors to the development of malnutrition in older adults.

Occurrence and Diagnosis

Technically, someone can be malnourished after just one day of not receiving the nutrients he needs; however, true malnutrition is typically not diagnosed and the effects are not noticed unless the situation has been ongoing for a few weeks. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition have developed certain characteristics that patients must exhibit to warrant a true diagnosis of malnutrition. These address areas such as estimation of energy intake, weight loss, physical signs of malnutrition and loss of body fat and muscle mass.

Side Effects of Malnutrition

One of the most common and noticeable side effects of malnutrition is unintentional weight loss. When your body doesn't get the nutrients it needs, it cannot maintain your healthy weight status. Muscle weakness, exceptional fatigue, a weakened immune system, depression and anemia may also be secondary to malnutrition.

Treatment of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can be treated; the type of treatment is dependent on the cause of malnutrition. Nutrition supplements can be helpful in certain situations, but it is also important to encourage adequate food intake. Often, eating in social situations is easier for malnourished adults than eating alone because they have constant encouragement and reminders to consume healthy foods. In cases of severe malnutrition, contact a health professional to supervise treatment.

Risk Factors for Becoming Malnourished

Although anyone can have malnutrition, those at the highest risk are elderly people and individuals with chronic diseases that can affect their nutritional intake. Diseases such as intestinal disorders that alter the absorption of nutrients and Alzheimer's disease, which can affect someone's ability to prepare and eat meals himself, can also negatively affect nutrition.

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