Malnutrition in Aged Care


A healthy diet is important for everyone. We all know that babies and young children need enough of the right food to grow and be healthy. But did you know that very old, along with the very young, are most vulnerable to the effects of poor diet?

Malnutrition in Older people

As we age our bodies start to change. While the outward signs are visible in the mirror there are also many internal changes which can impact on nutrition. Many older people mention one or more of the following:

  • Loss of teeth and poorly fitting dentures which makes chewing difficult.
  • Food tastes like cardboard, as they lose their taste and smell. They may also have a dry mouth (often due to their medications) so food becomes less appetising.
  • Food becomes more difficult to swallow.
  • Their digestive tract is sluggish. Food may not be absorbed as well.
  • Constipation is common – and contributes to poor appetite.
  • They no longer tolerate the foods they used to enjoy.
  • They have one or more health conditions, and take a number of medications, which can impact on their nutrition needs.
  • Loss of muscle mass leads to loss of strength, slower pace and poor balance. Recent research shows that older people actually need more protein than young people to help conserve their muscles.
  • Loss of bone mass so that the bones become more brittle. Many older people are not getting enough calcium or vitamin D needed to slow down bone loss.

When you combine the above with substandard meals sometimes served in residential aged care it is not surprising that many older people are not eating as well as they should be. In fact, research from around the world suggests that up to 50% of people in residential aged care are malnourished. In a future BLOG we will take a closer look at identifying Malnutrition in Aged Care.

The impact of malnutrition can be far-reaching and includes:

  • Loss of energy and strength.
  • Reduced mobility with an increased risk of falls and fractures.
  • Lower immunity leading to frequent infections (UTIs, colds, coughs and even pneumonia).
  • An increased risk of developing pressure injuries.
  • Low mood and loss of enjoyment of life.
  • They require more nursing cares.
  • Increased health care costs.
  • Increased complaints.

The question is “how do we best nourish our aged care residents?”

Most people recognise the importance of eating lots of vegetables and fruits, healthy grains, some protein-rich foods and cutting back on unhealthy fats and sugars. A wholegrain salad sandwich with a big, crunchy apple would be a great choice for a healthy young woman, but it won’t suit the frail 85-year-old with poorly fitting dentures!  On the other hand, most frail older people don’t want to eat bland, pureed foods slopped into a bowl.

So what should we be serving our older, frail residents? It would be fair to say the meeting the nutrition needs of older people in aged care is complex and requires knowledge and skill.

Aged Care Dietitians teams up with food service experts and executive chefs to provide skills-based food and nutrition training seminars and workshops for Residential Aged Care Providers. We cover a range of tops: special diets, food preparation for aged care, menu planning and nutrition and hydration in our workshops and seminars. See our FaceBook page. for news of our latest workshops.



Terence Austin demonstrating preparation of delicious texture modified meals to participants at our Aged Care Nutrition Workshop a Fresh Look at Soft and Puree meals in Auckland.

Food is only nutritious if it is eaten! Meals should look, smell and taste good, as well as provide sufficient variety and meet the residents’ nutrition requirements and preferences. This is a tall order, and how do you assess this? The best place to start is having a Menu Audit undertaken by a dietitian with expertise in aged care nutrition! We offer a cost-effective aged care menu audit service so that you can be reassured your menus meet aged care accreditation standards.

Yes, we want a fantastic menu with delicious meals served to all residents. Even so there will be those people with special diet needs, or really poor appetites who continue to lose weight. Our dietitians are skilled at assessing and treating residents with special diet needs, including enteral tube feeding (PEG and NG feeds). Where appropriate we arrange for oral nutritional supplements. Aged care Dietitians provides on-site or SKYPE clinical consultations.

To find out more, email us:

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