If Symptoms Persist.: OLD, HUNGRY

Article excerpt

"Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man."

- Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), Russian revolutionary. Diary in Exile, entry for May 8, 1935.

AGAIN, the myth: only children suffer from malnutrition. Sure there's that ubiquitous 30-second infomercial of a poor child with a bloated stomach and infested with flies. "Send help now!" the ad ends. But if we look around us, our very own aging parents, uncles, and aunts may be malnourished and we don't even know it.

Malnutrition. According to the UNICEF, malnutrition "is a broad term commonly used as an alternative to undernutrition but technically it also refers to overnutrition. People are malnourished if their diet does not provide adequate calories and protein for growth and maintenance or they are unable to fully utilize the food they eat due to illness (undernutrition). They are also malnourished if they consume too many calories (overnutrition)." We are focusing on the elderly who become, over time, undernourished for a variety of reasons.

Physical Causes. It wouldn't be hard to imagine how physical factors prevent our poor parents or Lolo and Lola from eating right and regularly. Chronic illness has a direct effect on losing appetite but it is also a circumstance where more nutrients are needed by the body (a so-called catabolic state where wasting away is occurring). Senile dementia and stroke are some examples of chronic conditions that make good nutrition difficult. Sometimes, it's as simple as having NO teeth, ill-fitting dentures, cavities or gum disease that make eating painful or impossible. There also certain medications that suppress appetite, alter taste, or cause nausea and vomiting. The usual culprits are antihypertensives, antidepressants, osteoporosis drugs. Aging digestive organs may also lead to malabsorption where essential nutrients are taken in by the body. Some digestive enzymes and acids do not work the way they used to.

Psychological/Social Causes. Again this would be easy to understand. How many of these are aging people without any source of income? Depression can lead to loss of appetite. Some old people happen to be alcoholics as well. It's known that alcoholism suppresses appetite and leads to vitamin and nutrient deficiency. …