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Nearly 1m older people at risk of malnutrition

Published on 29 November 2012 12:01 AM

It is estimated that nearly 1 million older people in England are at risk of malnutrition.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) ‘State of care' report released last week underlined how big the problem of malnutrition has become for older people in care homes and hospitals.


15% of the hospitals, 20% of nursing homes and 11% of residential care homes in the report failed to meet the dignity and nutritional needs of older people.

Why older people are more at risk from malnutrition

Malnutrition and nutritional risk are usually defined by a low bodyweight, unintended weight loss or poor recent nutritional intake.

The problems affect many people, but older people are more at risk due to factors affecting many in later life, including physiological changes, poor appetite, low income, practical difficulties in shopping and cooking, poorer mental and oral health, acute or chronic illness and social isolation.

Assumptions that older people are thinner can mask the issue

Social and professional perceptions that older people are typically thinner can mask the issue and mean it is less likely to be picked up.

Malnutrition also has wider repercussions than the individual concerned. In 2010 BAPEN reported that public expenditure on malnutrition in the UK is estimated at over £13 billion. Most of this expenditure comes out of NHS budget.

Need for increased awareness of symptoms of malnutrition among health professionals

The Malnutrition Task Force has been set up to help prevent older people being caught in a spiral of decline linked to malnutrition, as medical professionals often fail to spot the warning signs.

Dianne Jeffrey, Age UK Chairman and Chair of the independent Malnutrition Task Force said, 'Malnutrition amongst older people is all too often a hidden problem of which the consequences can be very serious. In the worst cases older people become ill and end up being admitted to hospital or they take much longer to recover from illness or injury.

'Many of these cases are preventable so it is unacceptable that there are an estimated 1 million malnourished older people living in our community. These high figures would be dramatically reduced by increased awareness of the symptoms amongst health professionals so that it doesn't go undetected, and ensuring all older people are checked for risk on admission to hospital and treated while they are there.

'More support is also required in the community to ensure older people get enough to eat.'

Call for Minister responsible for tackling malnutrition

The Malnutrition Task Force welcomes the Nice Quality Standard for nutrition support in adults, which is published on Friday.

The Malnutrition Task Force would like to see a ministerial lead responsible for championing and monitoring the work, and that awareness of the problem of malnutrition be reflected and measured in all health and social care work.

The Task Force has identified an urgent need for greater professional awareness of this condition as a priority.

About the Malnutrition Task Force

The Task Force, chaired by Age UK Chairman Dianne Jeffrey, sits under the umbrella of the Partnership for Improving Dignity in Care of Older People. It aims to share its expertise to develop practical solutions across the NHS, residential care and in the community.

Members include local government, commissioners, professional associations, GPs, dieticians, NHS service providers and community meal providers.

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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