Preventing malnutrition in later life

Food for thought on Older People’s Day

Dianne Jeffrey400

On Older People’s Day, our chair, Dianne Jeffrey, looks at the Malnutrition Task Force’s work and recent issues around nutrition in older people.

Today is Older People’s Day, a celebration here and abroad of the achievements of older people and their contribution to society as well an opportunity to challenge the negative attitudes, poor treatment and outmoded stereotypes that exist.

By chance, tonight I am speaking at a gala hosted by the National Association of Care Catering, a catering organisation which has done much to improve the lives of vulnerable older people.

This has got me reflecting on issues relating to the current situation around nutrition in older people.

Background

We can all agree that food is an area where we are used to having a great deal of control and from which most of us derive comfort and pleasure. Maybe you enjoy the same breakfast and lunch every day, or maybe you’re inspired by Heston Blumenthal! But this isn’t always possible for everyone.

In the UK, we often assume malnutrition is a condition confined to people living in other parts of the world, yet there are over a million older people living in our community who are malnourished or at real risk of becoming so.

Malnutrition Task Force’s work 

At the Malnutrition Task Force, we believe prevention and treatment of malnutrition should be at the heart of everything we do to ensure older people can live more independent, fulfilling lives.

We created a series of guides aimed at tackling malnutrition in different care settings. On the back of the guides’ success, the Government funded our Malnutrition Prevention Programme. This saw whole communities coming together to tackle malnutrition in older people. The Programme was piloted in five areas and concluded in July 2015. An evaluation will be published shortly which will hopefully inspire other communities across the UK to create similar schemes.

‘Shocking’ report

But there is still work to be done.

A shocking report came out this July showing older patients are suffering poor and inconsistent standards of help with eating in the “vast majority” of English NHS hospital trusts.

Published by the LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, the report shows that of those patients who needed help eating, 1.3 million people didn’t receive enough assistance on an annual basis and 640,000 of these were aged 65 or over.

What’s more, it’s particularly worrying that the most vulnerable are hit hardest, with people over the age of 80 and those with long-standing illness or disability amongst the most affected.

More recent survey results show the NHS has seen some slight improvement in headline figures, but there is still a long way to go. After all, who would want their loved ones or indeed themselves to receive this treatment?

We must value older people

I support Older People’s Day as it’s so important to raise awareness of and challenge the poor treatment and attitudes towards older people that exist.

However, this is only a first step. The Malnutrition Task Force must and will continue to work combatting malnutrition across all settings. Care sectors meanwhile must work every day, valuing older people and seeing them as individuals. Working consistently, we can ensure older people are treated in a dignified manner and are fed well. Hopefully then we will see the changes we so desperately need.

To read more about the report mentioned in this blog, click on ‘Older people’s experiences of dignity and nutrition during hospital stays’ report summary.

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