This is a common question for many boomers who take over primary care of octogenarian parents. Studies prove that keeping an eye on their nutrition plays a vital role in the elderly living longer, more active lives. Many people living alone after age 80 lose interest in food, and do not prepare even one meal per day containing all food groups.
A 2018 study from Spain found that many people in that country’s home care program were malnourished. Over 200 people in three urban health centres (average age 84, 80% women) were analyzed for nutrient deficiencies in relation to their level of dependency, emotional and mental ability, and general health. Just over 35% were in an institution, with the rest living at home or with a relative.
Results showed over 21% of the 200 were malnourished and 40% were at risk of it (with levels below normal of protein and micronutrients including iron). Over half of the people living in institutions were malnourished or at risk for it. A link was found between poorer nutrition and lower BMI, greater dependence on others for basic activities of daily living, and greater mental impairment. (Muñoz Díaz B, Arenas de Larriva AP, et al., “Study of the nutritional status of patients over 65 years …in an urban population”. Aten Primaria. 2018 Feb;50(2):88-95. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28595900 )
Those in hospital may not have much better nutrition levels. Another study that just came out in July found that many elderly patients in hospitals are low in nutrients. Only 24% had adequate protein intake. Underfeeding and not feeding the right foods to certain patients were major reasons, although severe lack of appetite and certain health conditions prevented some of them from eating properly. Those who were undernourished stayed in hospital longer and had more complications.