Home > NUTRITION > Golden Years > Malnutrition Among Elderly

Malnutrition Among Elderly


The elderly population is most susceptible to many health risks from a nutrient-poor diet. Physiological, psychological and economical changes during this stage can contribute to poor nutrition among them. It may lead to conditions such as malnutrition, undernutrition and overnutrition.

Malnutrition is defined as a condition caused by an improper food or insufficient nutrient intake.

Undernutrition refers to inadequate consumption, poor absorption, or excessive loss of nutrients.

Overnutrition may result from overeating or excessive intake of specific nutrients.

What Is Underweight

An elderly is considered as underweight when his or her Body Mass Index (BMI) is less than 22 kg/m2. Underweight among elderly maybe to several factors. These include:

  • Poor food availability and improper food handling
  • Infection/ Disease
  • Poor sanitation and hygiene
  • Economic
    • Low income
    • Unable to shop
  • Physiology
    • No teeth- reduce the ability to chew
    • Loss of appetite
  • Mental problem
    • Dementia
    • Confusion and depression

Common Problems Among Elderly

Many elderly have trouble eating well. Diet and nutrition can be compromised by poor oral health, stomach upset, loss of appetite, poor physical health, socioeconomic and other external problems.

Below are some ideas on how to improve your food preparation;

Foods Try:
Fresh fruit Choose soft fruits such as papaya and bananas. Fruit juices and soft canned fruits are good alternatives.
Raw vegetables Minced vegetables and mashed cooked vegetables
Meat Choose softer alternatives such as fish and chicken. Chop or grind beef finely so that it is easier to cook.
Rice Cooked rice with more water to make it softer. Mash if necessary. Rice or oat porridge are good alternatives.

List of problems :

  1. Unable to chew
  • Get dental treatment.
  • Modify foods to a soft or pureed consistency.
  • Try commercially prepared baby cereals.
  • Mince or chop fish, meat, chicken or vegetables.
  • Cook vegetables longer but use as little water as possible to avoid excessive loss of vitamins and mineral.
  1. Upset stomach

Too much gas and other stomach problems may make you stay away from foods you think cause the problem. This means you could be missing out on important nutrients, such as vitamins, calcium, fiber, and protein. What can you do:

  • Try to take more food from the milk, fruit and vegetables groups.
  • Avoid spicy food.
  1. Unable to shop

You may have problems shopping for food. You may not be able to drive anymore or have trouble walking or standing for a long time. What can you do :

  • Ask the local food store to deliver groceries to your home.
  • Arrange for family members or neighbor to shop for you.
  1. Unable to cook

You may have problem cooking. It may be hard for you to hold cooking utensils, pots and pans. You may also have trouble standing for a long time. What can you do :

  • Use microwave oven to cook simple meals or other frozen ready ?to-eat foods.
  • Take part in an elderly program at your nearby housing area (if available).
  • Move to a place where someone else will cook, such as a family member’s home or a home for senior citizens.
  1. Loss of appetite

Maybe caused by :

  • Feeling lonely at mealtimes
  • Effect of medications

What you can do :

  • Eat with family and friends.
  • Participate in community activities that offer meals and chance to meet new friends.
  • Invite friends or family members for lunch or dinner.
  • Share meals with a friend or neighbor.
  • Watch TV or listen to radio while you eat. TV or radio works as a great companion if you are lonely.
  • Eating out with friends or family members.
  • Ask your doctor if your medicines could be causing appetite or taste problems. If so, ask about changing medicines.
  • Increase the flavor of food by adding spices and herbs.
  1. Financial problem
    • Buy cheap nutritious foods such as egg, tempe, tofu, dried beans and chicken.
    • Choose local fruits and vegetables as well as foods that are on season instead of imported fruits.
    • Buy foods on sale or store-brand foods. They often cost less.

Tips To Increase Weight

  1. Increase the intake of energy dense snacks or foods such as :
    • Ice cream with syrup, chocolate, nut or canned fruits.
    • Milk shake
    • Local kuih or bubur (e.g bubur cha-cha)
    • Fried banana, sweet potato and yam
    • Sago or porridge or oats with milk and sugar
    • Rice porridge with fish, meat, eggs or pounded ikan bilis with oil
    • Custard with milk
    • Fried rice or noodles
    • Mashed potato with milk and butter/ margarine
  1. Consider taking high calorie and high protein commercial products available in the market, such as full cream milk that can replace normal meals or snacks during period of poor appetite.
    • Eat small and frequent meals. Do not skip meals even though you may not feel hungry.
    • Take meaty soup (chicken or beef)
    • Avoid non-calorie drinks such as too much plain water. It is advisable to drink only small amounts of liquid with meals.
    • If you are unable to eat solid semi solid foods, try soft food or liquid diets. More see Common condition among elderly.
    • Refer to your nearest Doctor/ Dietitian/ Nutritionist to assist you in monitoring the progress of weight gain.


Bubur Cha Cha (Serves 4)

Small sweet potato 160 g
Small yam 80 g
Pisang Raja 2 psc
Red bean 75 g
Sago 25 g
Coconut milk 300 ml
Sugar 250 g
Salt 1/2 tsp
Pandan leaves 8 pcs
Water 500 ml

Method / Preparation :

  • Skin, wash, drain and cut sweet potatoes and yam into cubes.
  • Skin and slice Pisang Raja
  • Soak red beans in water for at least 3 hrs. Boil in sufficient water until soft. Drain

Cook :

  • Boil the sweet potato and yam in water and pandan leaves
  • Add in sago
  • Add in Pisang Raja and red beans
  • Add sugar, salt and coconut milk and bring to boil. Simmer for 5-10 mins.

Nutrient Content :

For recipe
Per serving



Last reviewed : 20 April 2012
Writer : Rohida bt. Saleh Hudin
Junidah bt. Raib
Faulina bt. Khamisan
Reviewer : Tn. Hj. Ridzoni bin Sulaiman