Malnutrition can be a dangerous problem in the elderly. It can be caused by many different problems, including: inability to prepare meals, loss of taste, low income, poor appetite, illness and dental problems. Cognitive issues can also play a role in how well or often an elderly person eats. However, there are many different signs and clues that can be seen in a malnourished elderly person. Watching out for these signs is very important for caregivers and family members.
The mouth can hold very clear signs of malnutrition in an elderly person. According to a Huntington's disease website, taste buds that are normally visible will disappear. An elderly person's mouth might become bright red and canker sores may appear. Signs of thrush or a yeast infection of the mouth may also become evident in white patches that develop on the tongue or cheeks. As a result, the person may have pain when trying to eat, which causes even more difficulty with getting the person back in good health.
An elderly malnourished person's muscles may start to become flaccid. This is caused by the body using the stored energy and nutrients in the muscles to try to make up for the loss of nutrients that are normally fed to the body through eating. Activities such as walking to the mailbox or down the hall to the bathroom may become too much. The muscles and skin may also start to feel rubbery or even gelatin-like.
When malnutrition occurs, it can also significantly affect an elderly person's eyes. According to a website for Huntington's disease, a senior suffering from malnutrition may have red, inflamed eyes. The eyes may look glassy. The tissue in the eyes may actually thicken, and the person may experience swelling in the cornea. The elderly person's vision may also worsen, and this can cause him to become disinterested in any activity requiring vision.
Malnutrition can affect a person's cognitive abilities. Without the proper food to sustain and fuel our bodies, we become listless and disinterested. Normal daily tasks may be pushed aside. An elderly person suffering from malnutrition may be unable to answer simple questions about himself. His memory may decline, and he may even become irritable when pushed to answer questions. The Mayo Clinic reports that at this point, dementia or confusion may set in and medical intervention is needed.
The skin of malnourished seniors can also show problems. Many elderly people have a yellowing of the skin as they become increasingly malnourished. Darker- skinned individuals with have a dull look to their skin. The skin may become increasingly dry and wrinkled looking. Wrinkles may even look deep and set in. In addition, the skin beneath the fingernails may become white.