Poor oral health is a major contributor to malnutrition in older adults

05 April 2017 Nutrition

A recent study from the University of North Carolina in the United States suggests that poor oral health is a major risk factor for malnutrition among older adults – who are already at high risk of functional decline, decreased quality of life, and increased mortality – and can land them in the emergency department.

The study included 252 patients, age 65 and older, seeking treatment in emergency departments in the states of North Carolina, Michigan and New Jersey. Participants were screened for malnutrition and then asked about the presence of risk factors. From the study sample, 12% showed prevalence for malnutrition.

The highest rates of malnutrition were noted in patients receiving care in North Carolina – a state that researchers also identified as having one of the highest rates of older adults living below the poverty line (ranked third out of 50 states).  

Poor oral health was found to have the largest impact on malnutrition, among the risk factors that were studied. More than half of the patients in the study had dental problems, making them three times as likely to suffer from malnutrition as those without dental problems. Other factors associated with malnutrition that may contribute to the problem include social isolation, depression, medication side effects, and limited mobility.

“For patients who don’t have enough food at home, the solution is pretty obvious and likely much less expensive than paying for the medical care that results from malnutrition: there is an existing national system of food assistance programs, such as Meals on Wheels, and we believe we can use the emergency department to link patients in need to those programs.”
Tim Platts-Mills, MD, senior author of the study

The full study ‘Risk factors for malnutrition among older adults in the emergency fepartment: A multicenter study' is available in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.