This week is Nutrition and Hydration Week, an excellent campaign which celebrates food and drink as a way of maintaining health and wellbeing. As part of the Week, the Malnutrition Task Force will be looking at malnutrition among older people in the community and highlighting wonderful examples of initiatives that can help tackle this.
Food is a marvellous thing. Breathing in the scent of our favourite meal and savouring the taste as we eat and enjoy it are two of life’s great pleasures.
Food gives us the energy to keep active, stay mentally alert, and remain physically well, which means fewer visits to the doctors.
Keeping well-nourished and hydrated is so important to each and everyone one of us at every stage of our lives, particularly as we get older.
However, sadly, not everyone is so favoured. Latest estimates show up to 1.3 million of our older friends, relatives and neighbours are malnourished or at risk.
Lyn’s Story shows some of the reasons why older people become malnourished
There are many reasons why older people become malnourished in the community.
It could be because of poor mobility or difficulty in standing, which makes it harder to shop and prepare food. Feeling lonely, as often happens after bereavement, or sad or maybe drinking more alcohol more frequently can all lead us to lose our appetite and interest in eating.
There are also the long-term lifestyle habits of being mindful of too many calories along with the confusing public health messages, which warn of obesity and advise eating less.
Let’s not forget the ingrained myth that as we get older we naturally get smaller and lose weight.
None of this has been helped by recent brutal cuts to local community food services, like meals on wheels and lunch clubs, which are leaving many older people without the vital support they need to eat and drink.
Community food services are a lifeline
Yet community services can be a lifeline for older people, in some cases providing the only nutritious meal and friendly company they have in a day.
As part of Nutrition and Hydration Week, we will be showcasing brilliant examples of community services on the Malnutrition Task Force blog. These include Age UK Bath’s cooking courses and home from hospital services, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership’s Casserole Club, and a malnutrition-screening programme in Dorset that can identify people at risk of malnutrition.
We will look at what these services do and the ways they are improving the lives of older people in the communities they serve.
However, we know more needs to be done.
While there are a number of brilliant initiatives in communities around the UK which help people to stay well-nourished and hydrated, their availability is patchy and there remains a postcode lottery for those in need.
It’s crucial that local bodies from across health, social care and the voluntary sector come together to plan the services required to help people requiring assistance with food and drink.
There is great guidance out there for healthcare professionals, like NHS England’s Commissioning Excellent Nutrition and Hydration Guidance, which covers how to commission and deliver really good food and drink services that meet the needs of the community.
Anyone inspired to develop more community services could start a conversation with their local authority and community groups about what they can do to ensure older people get enough to eat and drink in their local area.
Huge benefits for everyone
There’s no doubt that preventing undernutrition in local communities can deliver huge benefits, reducing pressure on the health system and costs too.
We all know that eating well and keeping hydrated allows older people to live far healthier, independent and more enjoyable lives.
So this Nutrition and Hydration Week, let’s all try and do our bit to improve community nutrition and hydration services.
Our call to action is use the great guidance that’s out there, replicate some of the wonderful services or develop your own. There’s no excuse for not getting stuck in!
To read other Malnutrition Task Force blogs, click here.