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Malnutrition (issues with poor nutrition)

Malnutrition (meaning 'poor nutrition') is a serious condition. It occurs when our diet does not contain enough nutrients. Being malnourished can make medicine less effective, making it harder to recover from illness.



Why older people are more at risk of malnutrition

There are many factors that make older people more at risk of malnutrition, including:

Reduced sense of taste and smell

As we age, our sense of taste and smell reduces. This can change the pleasure we get from food and drink. 

Top tip

Try stronger tasting food and drink, or experiment with new ones!


Reduced appetite

We need less food or energy as we age, so our appetite reduces. 

Top tip

Have drinks after meals if you get full easily.


Difficulty with manual dexterity (moving your hands)

This can make eating and drinking and preparing food and drink much harder to do.

Top tip

Daily living equipment and technology can help people to keep their independence. There are so many affordable products out there that can help. Some you can even buy from supermarkets or high street shops.

Ideas include:

  • automatic can openers
  • bottle/jar openers
  • adding foam tubing to cutlery to make handles easier to grip
  • high-sided plates to help reduce spillages when eating one-handed

Take a look at the AskSara website for ideas on preparing meals, eating and drinking.

Gum shrinkage

Our gums shrink with age. This can cause dentures to become lose and poorly fitted, making our gums sore. We may eat less fruit and veg as a result. 

Top tips

Visit the dentist if you’re having issues.

Tinned fruit and veg may be easier to eat than fresh fruit and veg.

Switch to an electric toothbrush if you’re having trouble brushing.


Dry mouth

We produce less saliva (spit) as we age. So older people may find it more difficult to chew and swallow their food. 

Top tips

Moisten a dry mouth by chewing sugarless gums or sucking on sugarless sweets.

Simply drinking more water can help. Try holding the water in your mouth for a few seconds before you swallow it.


Difficulty digesting food

This is common in older age due to producing less saliva.

Top tip

Larger meals may be harder to manage. Try 3-4 smaller meals instead.


An older person's motivation to eat can be affected by:

  • depression
  • low mood
  • tiredness
  • lack of appetite
  • less enjoyment of food

Some older people may need more time to eat and could become de-motivated if food becomes cold, or if they are being rushed. People who have difficulty feeding themselves may feel embarrassed to eat in front of others. 

Top tip

Daily living equipment and technology can help people to keep their independence.

Ideas include:

  • stay warm plates and bowls to help keep food warmer for longer
  • foam tubing on cutlery can help people to eat by themselves, without help

Take a look at the AskSara website for ideas on preparing meals, eating and drinking.



What can I do if an older person is malnourished?   Back to top

If you're concerned about someone being malnourished, speak to a GP.

The 3, 2, 1 approach to meal planning

You could also try this. Aim for:

  • 3 fortified meals a day, for example add grated cheese to potatoes, or 2 teaspoons of butter to vegetables
  • At least 2 high energy snacks a day, for example biscuits, or a mini pork pie
  • Use 1 pint of fortified milk a day. You can fortify milk by adding 4 tablespoons of dried milk power to a pint of full fat milk and mix well

For more information see the malnutrition treatment page on the NHS website.



Further information   Back to top


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