My research program has been designed to investigate the nutritional problems acquired by older adults because of their illnesses, their medications, or their inability to feed themselves adequately. Specifically, my goals are to understand what are the causes and the impacts of these nutritional problems, and to test the effectiveness of clinical interventions aiming to prevent them. Two nutritional disorders are of particular interest to me: vitamin B12 deficiency and malnutrition. Malnutrition is characterized by significant weight loss that negatively affects health. Overall, 20-40% of nursing home residents are malnourished. To prevent malnutrition, residents receive liquid supplements (eg. Ensure®) in order to increase their caloric intakes. However, supplements are only partially consumed and so, are not as effective as they should be. A strategy has been suggested to increase supplement consumption. It consists of offering small portions of supplements (60mL) several times a day rather than a single serving of 250mL. However, the effectiveness of this promising strategy must be demonstrated.
My first research project will therefore test this approach and determine if it is sufficient to prevent weight loss and improve the health status of residents. Vitamin B12 deficiency is also a common nutritional disorder affecting approximately 6% of Quebec older adults and up to 40% of the frail elderly. It is not clear, however, whether vitamin B12 deficiency is mainly due to insufficient intakes of vitamin B12, specific diseases, or medications. In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency, even at mild stages, is thought of affecting memory during aging, a link that remains poorly understood. Hence, my second research project will compare older individuals who developed vitamin B12 deficiency, with others who did not, in order to better understand its causes and its impact on memory functions. Results from these projects will significantly improve nutritional care for older adults.