Malnutrition in institutionalized seniors: the iatrogenic component

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003 Jan;51(1):85-90. doi: 10.1034/j.1601-5215.2002.51015.x.


Objectives: To provide practitioners with benchmarks for micronutrient supplementation policies for older residents of long-term care (LTC) facilities, based upon residents' usual energy intake.

Design: Retrospective secondary analysis of nutrient intake and delivery data, obtained from 21 consecutive collection days.

Setting: A fully accredited geriatric teaching facility, affiliated with the University of Toronto's Medical School, that includes a chronic care hospital and a home for the aged, housing more than 800 senior residents.

Participants: Twenty-three cognitively impaired residents who retained the ability to feed themselves.

Measurements: Average daily micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) content of two common diet types--unrestricted diet as tolerated and lactose-free--were evaluated based upon all foods served during a 28-day cycle of menus, providing an estimate of total possible micronutrient intake. Energy intake needed to meet recommended intakes for each of the micronutrients was then determined and compared with actual dietary intakes.

Results: Even if entirely consumed, neither diet (providing approximately 2,000 kcal/d) supplied sufficient quantities of vitamins (vitamin E, pantothenic acid) and minerals (calcium, zinc, copper and manganese) to enable residents to meet recommended intakes, making these deficiencies iatrogenic in nature. As projected intake levels fell to reflect ranges more consistently observed in LTC residents (1,000-1,500 kcal/d), the number and severity of risk nutrients increased. Similar predictions, based upon actual intake measurements, were made and confirmed.

Conclusions: The traditional approach of developing LTC menus using resources such as Canada's Food Guide or the Food Guide Pyramid of the United States results in iatrogenic malnutrition. New guidelines are needed that are targeted toward the special needs of older adults who have low food intakes. In the interim, all older LTC residents require full-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Canada
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Services
  • Energy Intake
  • Homes for the Aged*
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease*
  • Institutionalization
  • Long-Term Care
  • Nutrition Assessment*
  • Nutrition Disorders / etiology*
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Nutritive Value
  • Retrospective Studies