Spring into Healthy Eating: Avoiding Malnourishment

fruit collageAn elderly man walked into my clinic a few months ago complaining of fatigue, memory and weight loss, and a general feeling of “no energy.”

He called it old age. After an examination, I called it poor diet.

Because food is such an important piece of our physical fitness, as a physical therapist, patients often ask me about nutrition and the impact healthy or poor eating habits may have in their day-to-day lives, physical rehabilitation and injury recovery.

While patients of all ages ask this question, I usually find myself speaking with older adults and the conversation typically leads to malnourishment.

Let’s review some of the key concepts of nutrition awareness.

Eating well is not as easy as it sounds-it takes a lot of effort. The key is to remember that you are what you eat – if you eat poorly you’ll feel sluggish and fatigued.

On the other hand, if you eat well and often, you’ll have increased energy and increased function. Most of the time seniors are not eating enough and need to be reminded of how many calories they should consume each day.

How many calories should I consume?

Generally speaking, women should consume 1600 – 2000 calories per day, and men 2000 – 2400 calories per day1.  The range is dependent upon activity level.  It is important to balance these calories throughout the day by eating three square meals and snacking twice a day and avoid skipping a meal.

What are the symptoms of malnourishment?

Most often the challenge is eating the required amount and, as a result, 68 percent of people 60 and up have a diet that needs improvement, according to the CDC2. The most common signs and symptoms associated with malnourishment are fatigue and confusion3.

What health conditions are associated with malnourishment?

Besides fatigue and confusion, malnourishment can lead to other major health problems. I’ve seen patients with muscle weakness, brittle bones, neuropathy, incontinence, non-healing wounds, and decreased activity level. These associated conditions can severely impair a person’s ability to function in and their quality of life.

Who should I call if I suspect I’m malnourished?

While the above conditions may be associated with other primary medical conditions, it is important to speak with your medical doctor regarding all of your symptoms and about your diet. If you are currently seeking treatment from a health care provider, describe your diet to them and ask as many questions as you can on nutrition.

You may also want to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist, who can help you develop a plan to meet your specific nutritional needs.

If you are participating in physical therapy, ask your physical therapist what nutritional needs your physical rehabilitation and recovery requires.

Remember…eat well, eat often, and try not to skip meals.

Ask questions, see your medical doctor for wellness examinations, and seek out the answers to you dietary questions.


  1. Elder Helpers. Available at: www.elderhelpers.org.
  2. Parent Giving. Available at: www.parentgiving.com.
  3. Health and Wellness. Available at: www.quadhealthy.com.