Ames Screening Measures Malnutrition in Older Adults

AMES, Iowa — An Iowa State University research team has developed new measurement tools to detect malnutrition in older adults. On Monday, Dec. 17, the Iowa State researchers will be conducting free nutritional screenings at Heartland Senior Services, 205 South Walnut Ave. in Ames, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Appointments are preferred.

Adults age 65 years or older, and who speak English, are eligible to participate in the screenings, said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist.

To schedule an appointment, contact Francis at or 515-294-1456. All participants will receive the Healthy and Homemade cookbook, an ISU Extension and Outreach publication, for their time.

Malnutrition in Older Adults

Malnutrition affects a large proportion of the older adult population. The National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging reports that among older adults who live on their own, one in four is estimated to suffer from malnutrition. In addition, between 35 to 50 percent of older adults living in long-term care facilities are malnourished.

“Data show that malnourished older adults typically have hospital stays twice the length of well-nourished older adults, with these visits costing between $2,000 and $10,000 more. They often experience more hospital readmissions, as well,” Francis said. “Malnutrition can lead to reduced quality of life and loss of independence if left untreated, because of adverse health effects such as weight loss, diminished strength, reduced immunity, disorientation and confusion.”

Numerous nutrition assessment tools detect malnutrition in older adults, but the Mini Nutritional Assessment is considered the “gold standard” of nutritional assessment, because of its accuracy in determining nutritional risk, Francis explained. “The MNA is designed to be used with adults age 65 and older. The assessment asks questions about your general and self-perceived health and dietary practices. It also requires measuring the size of your arm and calf, using measuring tapes.”

Iowa State Develops New Measurement Tools

Iowa State’s new measurement tools are used with the MNA. The Viva Gauge tools have been designed to help in measuring the size of the arm and calf, an important part of screening for nutritional risk, Francis said.

“We are conducting the free screenings to ensure that our new measurement tools are just as accurate as traditional measuring techniques,” Francis said.

Participants will be asked to complete the MNA screening process. They will need to answer questions about their general and self-perceived health and dietary practices, and self-report their height and weight. Actual height will be measured with a stadiometer and weight will be measured with a digital scale. Participants’ arm and calf measurements will be taken using the Viva Gauge tools as well as the traditional measuring tape. Participants also will complete a questionnaire about the screening experience. The entire process requires about a 15 to 20 minute, one-time visit.

“If you are identified as at risk for malnutrition or malnourished the research team will mail you additional information about how to reduce your nutritional risk,” Francis said.