Malnutrition Awareness Week focuses on life-saving education

Andrea Svartstrom is a registered dietitian with the Nutrition Programs at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services

Malnutrition is prevalent among older adults and can lead to a wide range of health problems. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed. To help change that, Somerville Cambridge Elder Serivces (SCES) and agencies across Massachusetts will host informative clinics for Malnutrition Awareness Week, which starts May 13.

Malnutrition is a lack of proper nutrition– usually caused by an excess or deficiency of nutrients—which can cause health problems. Roughly half of adults aged 65 or over are either malnourished or at-risk, according the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Malnutrition makes hospital visits more likely, and greatly increases the chance of death or hospital readmission.

This makes it important to know the warning signs and understand common risk factors, which include:

• Low weight or sudden weight loss
• Gaunt or sunken features
• Limited food access
• Reduced bone density
• Decreased appetite
• Depression and/or social isolation
• Overweight
• Eating disorders or dietary restrictions

Two more important points: first, the risk for malnutrition is higher when an elder is staying in a hospital, rehab center, or nursing home, but also occurs in community settings. Second, there’s a common misconception that malnourished people are always thin, but overweight people are often malnourished, because they are not eating the right amount and types of food their body needs.

Elder service agencies are often on the front lines of combatting malnutrition. We have professionals trained to evaluate concerns of malnutrition. We also provide dietary counseling, home delivered meals, congregate meals, nutritional supplements, and referral to other food assistance programs.

These programs are provided through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) Elderly Nutrition Program, which is funded by the Older Americans Act and state funding. Statewide, it provided more than nine million meals to approximately 75,000 older adults last year.

Malnutrition Awareness Week is a new event. Timed to coincide with May being Older Americans Month, it will feature 76 malnutrition awareness clinics and events across the Commonwealth. The clinics will include malnutrition risk screenings, educational presentations, free snack giveaways, recipe demonstrations, healthy diet information, and Q&A with a nutrition professional. As part of that effort, SCES is hosting the following sessions:

• Cambridge Citywide Senior Center, May 13 at 1 p.m.
• Holland St Senior Center in Somerville May 14 at 10:30 a.m.
• Manning Apartments, Cambridge, May 15, 10:30 a.m.

Please consider joining us to learn more. Malnutrition is a common problem in every community, but working together we can raise awareness and save lives.

Andrea Svartstrom MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian with the Nutrition Programs at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Service (SCES) a non-profit agency that supports the independence and well-being of older people in Somerville and Cambridge. For more information, visit or contact the SCES Aging Information Center at 617-628-2601 for free advice and guidance.