As a new report from the Malnutrition Task Force highlights the scale of malnutrition in later life in the UK.
Research shows that 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. The silent and often hidden condition can seriously affect an older person’s health and wellbeing and increase hospital admissions and long-term health problems.
The Malnutrition Task Force and Age UK are calling on community health practitioners such as pharmacists, GPs, dentists and other health providers who often come into contact with older people, to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms that a person is malnourished or might be at risk of becoming so over time.
It is considered by many that losing weight as you get older is ‘normal’ or even inevitable. This myth can prevent an older person and their friends and family from recognising when weight loss could be a problem that is affecting their health.
The ‘State of the Nation’ report highlights that services across the UK need to adapt to the scale of the challenge around malnutrition in later life and be aware that many older people who are at risk of losing weight often live on their own and are not in contact with formal services.
Lesley Carter, Malnutrition Task Force lead, said:
“Malnutrition, in many cases, develops into a vicious circle. Someone who becomes malnourished will be at greater risk of ill health and injury, which in turn may make it more difficult to eat well.
“There are still gaps, mainly in public awareness and professional training, but the building blocks are there to create better nutrition for all older people and to make the standards and availability of care universal.
“Preventing and treating malnutrition relies on increasing public awareness and professional training alongside an integrated system of health and social care, together with support for older people, their carers and families.
“There are wider economic costs caused by malnutrition in later life which could be avoided if health professionals identified the people most at risk early on. It might be that an older person simply needs some support and advice to encourage them to eat a healthy and balanced diet or a referral to dietetic services which could provide them with additional help if their health was suffering as a result.
“If the way in which we address malnutrition does not change, we can only expect the situation to worsen for the older people at risk and those who care for them.”
Training of all health and social care staff, particularly GP’s, is critical in developing measures to tackle malnutrition in the community effectively.
There are currently e-learning modules in place through the Royal College of GPs and the Managing Adult Malnutrition in the Community Pathway set up by a multidisciplinary group and widely endorsed by professional bodies is aimed at health care professionals.
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