Nutritional supplements for the elderly

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While taking nutritional supplements helps older adults in the general population gain weight, they don’t necessarily live longer or function better than those who don’t take supplements, according to a research review article by Saint Louis University geriatricians. However, supplements improve the ability of those who are malnourished or frail to function and help them live longer.

Nutrition supplements are beverages such as Ensure or Boost that contain vitamins, minerals, proteins and calories and frequently are taken between meals, in addition to traditional foods.

Malnutrition in the elderly is a significant problem, affecting up to 15% of those in long-term care facilities, says Dr Julie Gammack, professor of geriatrics and lead author of the research “Malnutrition and weight loss are common and have serious consequence for older adults. It’s often under-recognized in the elderly population and its consequences can be devastating,” said Gammack, who also is a SLUCare Physician Group geriatrician.

“People lose strength and their ability to function independently, which puts them at risk of increased hospitalisations and their overall quality of life deteriorates. Oral nutritional supplements have shown benefits for those who are malnourished or frail.”

Purpose of review: Malnutrition and weight loss have serious consequences in older adults. The use of caloric supplementation may provide nutritional and functional benefits in this population. This article reviews the recent literature on oral nutritional supplementation (ONS) in the elderly.
Recent findings: Inadequate caloric intake is a factor consistently associated with weight loss, and use of ONS can increase weight in community-dwelling as well as acute and chronically ill elders. ONS does not improve function or mortality in the general elderly population but has shown benefits in those who are frail or malnourished. Improvement in functional status and mortality was not seen in postacute, hip fracture, or demented populations.
Summary: At this time, research does not clearly show that providing ONS to unselected groups of older adults results in functional or mortality benefits; however, a small increase in body weight is a likely outcome.

St Louis University material
Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care abstract

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