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Malnutrition can affect health and wellbeing, increase hospital admissions, and can lead to long-term health problems for otherwise healthy and independent older people. 

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition means that someone isn’t eating well enough to maintain their health and wellbeing. It is characterised by low body weight or weight loss. 

Being malnourished can mean more visits to the GP and longer recovery times from illness.

It’s estimated that around one in ten people over the age of 65 are malnourished or are at risk of malnutrition – that’s over one million older people in the UK today. 

What are the signs of malnutrition?

You can be malnourished regardless of your size, weight or body shape.  

The main signs are:

  • low body weight
  • unintentional weight loss
  • feeling lethargic or more tired
  • smaller appetite
  • having difficulties with chewing and swallowing 
  • finding planning, cooking and shopping becoming more of an effort
  • loose dentures 

See more signs of malnutrition here.

If you recognise these signs, you should do something about it as these can all be signs of unhealthy weight loss and that we might be at risk of becoming malnourished.

What causes malnutrition?

Long-term conditions affect our appetite or perhaps it becomes harder to get out to the shops, carry food or manage purchases, or cook and prepare meals. Other life changes may also affect our appetite, such as loss and bereavement, becoming a carer, feeling lonely or isolated or worrying about finances. 

As we get older, our health needs change and can increase the risk of malnutrition. The messaging we often hear is focused on weight loss, eating low fat products, eating more fruit and vegetables and less sugar and treats. 

But this style of eating may not be right someone who has a small appetite, who has unintentionally lost weight or is finding it difficult or tiring to eat. It's always better to eat something, even if it's small snacks throughout the day instead of 3 main meals.

There are many reasons why someone becomes malnourished, but it’s important to remember that malnutrition is preventable.

What should I do if I notice a lack of appetite or unintentional weight loss?

It’s always a good idea to keep a record of your weight and check it regularly. If you notice unintentional weight loss, do speak to your GP, Practice Nurse or a health professional. 

If you have noticed that your appetite has changed recently find out more about tips for eating well here.

For more information on malnutrition, visit the Malnutrition Taskforce.

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Last updated: Apr 20 2021

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