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Depression, Toothaches Main Causes of Senior Malnutrition

Update Date: Aug 13, 2014 03:13 PM EDT

Blues and bad teeth could explain why more than half of seniors to visit the emergency departments are either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition.

Researchers noted that depression and dental problems are more influential than lack of access to health care, critical illness or dementia, when it comes to senior malnutrition.

Researchers found that more than three-quarters of seniors diagnosed with malnutrition had never previously been diagnosed, despite showing clear malnutrition symptoms.

"We were surprised by the levels of malnutrition or risk of it among cognitively intact seniors visiting the ER, and even more surprised that most malnourished patients had never been told they were malnourished," lead study author Timothy Platts-Mills, MD, of the University of North Carolina Department of Emergency Medicine in Chapel Hill, N.C., said in a news release. "Depression and dental problems appear to be important contributors, as is difficulty buying groceries. Given that seniors visit ERs more than 20 million times a year in the U.S., emergency physicians have an opportunity to screen and intervene in ways that may be very helpful without being very costly."

The study revealed that 16 percent of patients aged 65 and older were malnourished and 60 percent were either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition. Researchers noted that 95 percent of patients included in the study had a primary care physician, and 94 percent lived in a private residence, 96 percent had some form of health insurance and 35 percent had college education.

The study defined malnutrition as being deficient of  "adequate calories, protein or other nutrients needed for tissue maintenance and repair."

"For patients who report difficulty buying groceries, Supplemental Nutrition Program, Meals on Wheels, Congregate Meals Programs or community-based food charities can be helpful, although other factors may also need to be addressed," added Platts-Mills. "The growing role of the emergency department as community health resource makes it an essential place for identifying and addressing unmet needs of older adults. Implementation of oral nutritional supplementation is inexpensive and may reduce overall costs by accelerating recovery from illness and reducing readmissions."

The findings were published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

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