Not getting proper food and nutrition on a daily basis can be detrimental to your health, regardless of your age. It is estimated that by the year 2035, one in four Canadians will be 65 years or older, and they will be especially prone to malnutrition and frailty. While these two conditions tend to go hand in hand—with one leading to the other—clinicians treat them separately. However, a new literature review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism describes the similarities these two conditions share and recommends they be treated together.
A loss of strength and endurance are the hallmarks characterizing frailty in the elderly population. This, in part, increases the likelihood of ailments and declines in health. Simple tasks for the younger population may require greater amounts of effort for the elderly. Tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and even eating can be exponentially more difficult—it may get to the point that people simply stop doing them and require the aid of others. This can lead to rampant cases of malnutrition and injuries to the elderly, as was seen in previous studies that found malnutrition co-occurs with frailty in older adults. Despite the two conditions coinciding with each other, frailty and malnutrition are diagnosed independently and often with the use of different diagnostic tools.
Prof. Heather Keller, the senior author of the review, stated: “Simple tools for screening and processes for detecting and treating these conditions together need to be developed across the continuum of care… [frailty and malnutrition] should be considered simultaneously due to the high likelihood that a patient will have both conditions together.”
Prof. Keller and her research team have done extensive investigation by compiling reports of frailty and malnutrition—they have found symptoms that are shared by both conditions: weight loss, slowness, and weakness. Identifying these symptoms will aid in the diagnosis of malnutrition and frailty, ensuring that physicians are properly addressing the full spectrum of possible issues.
While it may take some time for frailty and malnutrition to be seen as a single entity, perhaps preventative health practices should be implemented that promote oral nutritional supplements or nutrient dense diets in combination with exercise to improve both conditions simultaneously.
Considering that in approximately 20 years from now a quarter of the population will be 65 or older, implementing a preventative and diagnostic treatment plan to reduce and treat frailty and malnutrition before they become overburdening will minimize new cases of these conditions, subsequently reducing the number of unnecessary hospitalizations in the future.
Related: Fatigue (tiredness) in elderly: Causes and how to treat it