Elder abuse takes many forms, from isolating a loved one from their family to leaving them in bed long enough to develop painful bedsores. But one angle of neglect, nutrition, can affect an elderly person in more ways than one. As the National Council on Aging reports, nearly 1 in 10 Americans over 60 years old experience some form of elder abuse.

Pinpointing the signs of malnutrition is an important step in identifying this hard-to-see form of neglect.

Normal nutritional needs

Aging affects a person’s nutritional needs in a variety of ways. On average, lean body mass and basal metabolic rates decline with age, which means that their energy requirements decline as well.

The process of aging affects other needs as well. Data suggests that requirements for some essential nutrients actually increase. It takes knowing a person’s unique physiology along with observed norms to determine the appropriate needs per case.

Malnutrition in more ways than one

Malnutrition is not necessarily depriving someone of food. It can mean feeding someone on a diet of poor foods that lead to worse health states.

As the World Health Organization states, many diseases suffered by older persons result from dietary factors. Ensuring that an elder’s foods are rich in micronutrients can reduce the chances of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. But these foods can be expensive.

Noting an elder’s poor health or unusual weight loss may be sign enough. If a nursing home or family member is feeding an elder nothing but junk food and applesauce, the regime may lead to a compounded, negative impact on the elder’s health.

Determining whether this is abuse, neglect or a matter of resources is a trickier question and may need further investigation.