What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition amongst the elderly is a very common condition, effecting 1 in 10 over 65’s in the UK. Malnutrition in later life can lead to many negative health consequences and reduce your quality of life. However, many of us are unaware of the warning signs indicating malnutrition or the severity of the consequence’s malnourishment can have on all aspects of your health. Therefore, it’s so important to raise awareness on how to recognise, prevent and treat malnourishment.

Common causes of malnutrition include difficulty chewing/ swallowing foods, feeling too fatigued to eat, having a poor appetite, not feeling educated on what are nutritional meal options, loss of ability to grocery shop, concern about food budgeting, or not being able to functionally prepare meals.

Risk of malnourishment is even higher in 2020 as COVID has massively affected support systems, particularly for the elderly. They may not be able to get grocery’s as frequently as they would like or make doctors’ appointments to discuss their health without being fearful of COVID. However, as we enter the winter it is so important to have good health as malnourishment can really increase your risk of becoming ill. This year it’s more important than ever to come together as a community to support the elderly to prevent malnutrition. What could you do? offer to do a weekly shop, fill the basket with nutritious foods or offer to cook a meal for an elderly relative once a week.

Who is this information aimed at?

  • If you are over 65 yourself, malnutrition education is vital to help prevent it. If you realise you may be currently experiencing malnutrition this information can help you find ways to enrich your diet or change your lifestyle.
  • If you are a health care professional who encounters elderly patients e.g. a GP or a carer, it is important to be able to recognise when a patient is malnourished and have the knowledge to make helpful recommendations.
  • If you have an elderly member of the family whose health you are concerned for you can pick up tips on how you can help improve their nutrition to improve their quality of live.

There are many negative consequences of malnutrition including:

  • Health conditions like sarcopenia where you lose muscle mass, contributing to increased fragility and risk of fractures and falls. Malnutrition can also prevent your immune system from functioning well making you more susceptible to illness.
  • Poor quality of life: malnutrition can cause constant fatigue effecting your ability to do daily living activities including socialising. This can also negatively impact your mental health and lead to depression.
  • Malnutrition is also a large cost to society. It is thought to cost the NHS 23.4 billion due to increased hospital admissions and longer stays.

Common warning signs to look out for that indicate risk of malnutrition include:

  • Clothes and jewellery fitting more loosely than usual.
  • A decrease in appetite
  • Losing a lot of weight without trying
  • Decrease in functional mobility effecting ability to cook and shop
  • Constant fatigue
  • Consistent low mood
  • Difficulty swallowing/ chewing your food

If you suspect malnutrition in yourself or an elderly relative, then it’s recommended to contact your local GP or a dietitian to discuss how to improve your nutrition and restore some weight. A self-screening assessment for malnutrition is available at https://www.malnutritionselfscreening.org/self-screening.html

Tackling Malnutrition

In order to tackle malnutrition often weight needs to be restored so it is important to incorporate more calories into your diet, which may go against your intuition on health but being underweight can cause just as many health complications as obesity, especially in later life. Here are some top tips on tackling malnutrition:

  • Enrich your meals with extra butter/ cream or milk powder to make your meals more energy dense. This is particularly important if you are very underweight, have lost your appetite.
  • If don’t feel hungry for your food try to eat small meals often that are energy dense
  • See if your local community hold any luncheon clubs to attend. Eating with others can improve your food satisfaction and improve your mood which may also be affecting your appetite.
  • Cook soft foods like macaroni and cheese, fish pie or soup if you are struggling to swallow or chew your food.
  • If you feel as though you don’t know the type of meals to eat you can contact your local dietitian for advice or visit our Facebook page for some recipe ideas that are enriched.
  • If you are concerned about shopping during the pandemic or have reduced mobility, you could do your grocery shopping online to get it delivered to your door. Or you could ask a family member if they wouldn’t mind doing your weekly grocery shop.
  • If you struggle to prepare you meals due to low energy levels or strength, then microwave meals can still be a very nutritional option. Meals on wheels or other food delivery services are also good options.

We hope you found this article helpful and will spread the word on the importance of preventing malnutrition in your community. If you want more information on the topic you can visit:

 

Information Written and Collated By Charlotte Jeffs, Intern at Sunlight Nutrition Limited

October 2020