Preventing malnutrition in later life

“Mum’s Looking Thinner”

A woman and her adult daughter choosing vegetables in a supermarket

Losing weight isn’t a normal part of getting older

 INFOGRAPHIC: 1 in 10 older people are suffering from or are at risk of malnutritionPublic health messages focused on reducing obesity can make weight loss seem desirable, but as someone gets older it’s easy for weight to drop off without noticing, and it can have serious health consequences.

Older people who are underweight are at increased risk of ill health, falls and infections. They are more likely to be admitted to hospital and will take longer to recover from illness and surgery.

1 in 10 people over 65 aren’t suffering from, or are at risk of undernourishment. Many people don’t realise they’re losing weight.

Do you know the signs an older person is getting thinner and may be at risk of health problems?

Is mum’s wedding ring looser? Have you noticed Dad doing his belt up a notch tighter? Do your neighbour’s clothes seem looser? These small signs might suggest that an older person is getting thinner and it’s time to act.

Someone who isn’t eating enough will often lack energy, they might be cold, dizzy, lethargic or constipated. They may have low mood. Perhaps they’ve lost their appetite and interest in food. These are all signs that somebody might not be eating enough and their health could be at risk.

Why might an older person be underweight?

There are times in life when we all have a poor appetite – bereavement and grief can make us feel less hungry, as can serious illness or a hospital stay. Cooking for one can seem like too much effort, eating alone can make mealtime less enticing, or even act as a reminder of a lost loved one.

Older people living with joint pains or a mobility issues face extra barriers to eating well – just getting to the shops, carrying home groceries, then preparing food, can be a huge undertaking.

Sometimes there are physical problems with eating – badly fitting dentures, tooth pain or problems swallowing can be a real issue.

It’s important we act quickly, because a person who is not eating enough can become undernourished in as little as 2-3 days.
People can become malnourished if they don’t eat enough for two to three days.

If you are worried about an older person you care for

If you, or someone you are caring for, loses their appetite, suddenly becomes thinner, or steadily loses weight unintentionally for a while, make an appointment with your GP. A GP can rule out any serious illness, and you can raise any other issues – like difficulty swallowing.

If you’re worried about this issue, BAPEN offers a free self-screening tool you can use at home.

There are also ways to help people regain weight at home. Read our article ‘Supporting an older person who’s lost their appetite’ to find out how to take action if you’re concerned about someone you care for.

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Malnutrition Task Force
Tavis House
1 - 6 Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9NA

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