1 in 10 (1.4 M) aged 60+ have been eating less since the start of the pandemic
Published on 12 March 2021 03:14 PM
1 in 4 (3.7 million) aged 6O+ say that either they or others in their household have be unable to eat healthy and nutritious food [ii].
New analysis from Age UK reveals that 1.4million older people aged 60+ in England have been eating less since the start of the pandemic and could therefore be at a greater risk of becoming malnourished, while 3.7million say that either they or others in their household have been unable to eat healthy and nutritious food.
Results from a recent survey[iii]of older people by Age UK are stark and show how tough life has been for many older people since the start of the pandemic. Lockdowns have left some older people with reduced appetites and less able to shop for, prepare and eat enough good food. Age UK is worried that this hidden problem of undernutrition and malnourishment in older people is increasing at pace, with:
Nearly half (49%) of people who already had difficulty going to the shops saying this has become harder
Two in five (43%) of older people surveyed by Age UK saying they feel less confident or much less confident going to the shops by themselves than they used to
Eating and drinking enough is especially important as we age. Being well nourished helps to maintain muscle mass, which in turn improves mobility and reduces falls. It keeps us warm, and gives us energy, as well as being a big mood boost that enables us to continue to do all the things that are important to us.
Before the pandemic 1.3 million[iv] older people were already suffering from or at risk of malnutrition in the UK. Covid-19 restrictions instantly and dramatically increased the amount of time older people have been isolated from family, friends and carers. People were left alone and vulnerable, with the anxiety of catching the virus, restricted access to food shopping and a reduction in essential health care and daily support. This resulted in many older people feeling isolated and lonely and losing their daily routine has put many more older people at risk of becoming malnourished.
Age UK is calling on everyone to start a friendly conversation with the older people in their lives to ensure they are having enough to eat and drink after an incredibly tough year of coronavirus and the restrictions it has imposed on us all. The charity is also encouraging people to look out for signs that loved ones maybe be under-nourished.
Older people and their families have told Age UK of the difficulties they are experiencing when it comes to eating well during the pandemic:
“When she’s really low she loses interest in the things she used to do for fun. She also struggles to eat and loses her appetite which is quite dangerous for her as she has a slim, delicate frame.” (F 75-79)
“Mobility decreased which had an effect on pain and caused her to stop eating.” (F 75-79)
Dementia has deteriorated considerably in lockdown. We have not been able to visit her in her flat to help with reminders about eating, sort out cupboards and help with meal prep. She has lost weight (family member & carer of female aged 85 to 89)
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: “We really are worried about the number of older people who are now reporting they are not eating enough and it’s vital that we all raise the issue of eating well and getting enough nutrients with our older relatives and friends, sensitively and supportively.
“When we are able to see them face to face we should take the chance to look out for warning signs that they may not be getting enough to eat - like rings being loose and slipping off, clothes looking too big, belts needing to be tightened. It is sometimes quite difficult to recognise that an older person may unintentionally be losing weight.
If older people become malnourished this can have serious implications for their health. Not eating and drinking enough increases the risk of infection and falls and worsens any existing long-term conditions. It also makes it harder for people to recover from an episode of ill health. We all need to do everything we can to help our loved ones, friends and neighbours to keep up their nutritional intake - and enjoy it too.”
Dianne Jeffrey, Chair of the Malnutrition Task Force, said: “It is devastating to hear that so many older people during lockdowns have been left with reduced appetites and are less able to shop for, prepare and eat enough good food. Age UK and the MTF is worried that this hidden problem of undernutrition and malnourishment in older people is increasing at pace.
“We know that now more than ever, it’s essential that older people are eating enough to maintain their health and well-being. Many older people are struggling to shop, cook, eat, and drink enough nourishing food, without their usual health and social care support or support of families and friends. Malnutrition makes it harder to recover from an episode of ill health which is particularly worrying during this pandemic. If malnutrition is not addressed, many of these people will eventually be admitted to hospital which is often the first-time malnutrition will be identified.
“The call for action is that better raising awareness, identification, services and support are available to ensure older people are getting the right help, at the right time to remain independent, well-nourished, and hydrated.”
Ways we can all help
Ask an older friend or relative what they are eating to keep warm or do they have any favourite food could be a good way to start a conversation about how they’re eating. Ask them if you can run through a checklist to see if there is anything you can do help, and ask them the questions below:
1. Are you concerned that you may be underweight?
2. Have you lost a lot of weight unintentionally in the past three – six months or have you noticed clothing or rings becoming loose recently?
3. Have you recently found that you have lost your appetite or interest in eating?
4. Are you concerned about how to shop for food, your food budget, and/or your ability to cook meals?
5. Are any eating difficulties because of things like dentures not fitting properly or do you have any difficulty swallowing, chewing or cutting up food?
6. Do you think you are drinking enough, or do you find it difficult to drink?
If a friend or relative answers yes to any of these questions it is time to take action. The Malnutrition Task Force’s website www.malnutritiontaskforce.org.uk website has information on what to do if someone is underweight, having difficulty with the physicality of eating, or having difficulty chewing or swallowing food. You may also wish to talk about consulting with their GP or healthcare professional.
The Malnutrition Taskforce also offers advice on changes that can help someone who is unintentionally losing weight:
What can older people do if they are worried about their appetite?
• Speak to your GP to rule out other health conditions and they can arrange for referrals to a dietician or speech language therapist if required
• If teeth or dentures are a problem, make an appointment with a dentist. Some dentists will make home visits. If there is difficulty with chewing, try eating soft foods such as scrambled eggs or yoghurt
• If you can’t face a large meal, try small meals and snacks throughout the day.
• Move to full-fat foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese.
• If you have difficulty opening items, make sure to pick up items that are easy to get into
• If your eyesight isn’t good, try using a blue coloured plate – this helps people to see what they are eating.
• Try to introduce some routine, for example a regular snack with a favourite TV programme.
• If you need help with shopping, look into online shopping or find out what support local Age UKs can offer to older people who have difficultly shopping or are lonely.
• If a care worker supports you with meals, talk to them about incorporating these suggestions into your care plan.
For more information contact Age UK I&A line to order a copy of a booklet on eating well in later life
On Wednesday 10 March at 3pm the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ageing and Older People's meeting will focus on malnutrition in the UK and how lockdowns have brought new challenges to older people in keeping themselves well and nourished.
[i] Almost 1.4 million people, one-in-ten (10%) aged 60 & over in England, have been eating less than usual since the coronavirus outbreak.
Source: Age UK Analysis (December 2020) of English Longitudinal Study of Ageing Covid-19 Sub-Study Wave 1 (June/July 2020) scaled up to the age 65+ population of England from ONS mid-year 2019 population estimates (published 24th June 2020). The question asked was “Since the coronavirus outbreak began in February, please say whether you have been doing each of the following less than usual, about the same, or more than usual?” with one of the descriptions “I have been eating”. 10% of people aged 60 & over in England responded “Less than usual”, 74% “About the same” and 16% “More than usual”. Percentages are rounded to nearest whole number. There are 13,465,551 people aged 60 & over in England, multiplied by 10.16%, equates to 1,368,100 (i.e. almost 1.4 million people aged 60 & over in England have been eating less than usual since the coronavirus outbreak).
[ii] Age UK Analysis (March 2021) of Understanding Society: COVID-19 Study [September 2020] scaled up to the age 60+ population of England from ONS mid-year 2019 population estimates (published 24th June 2020). The question asked was “Thinking about last week, were you or others in your household unable to eat healthy and nutritious food?” 27.61% of people aged 60 & over in the UK responded “Yes” and 72.39% “No”. There are 13,465,551 people aged 60 & over in England multiplied by 27.61%, equates to 3,717,839 (i.e. around 3.7 million people aged 60 & over in the UK either themselves and/or members of the household have not been able to eat healthy and nutritious food the week prior to being asked when asked).
[iii] Age UK conducted a survey older people aged 60 and over asking how feeling since the beginning of the pandemic. We asked to which extent they agreed/ disagreed with the following statements:
43% of people say they either feel less confident or much less confident going to the shops by themselves than they used to. & …
[iv] In the UK, estimates suggest 1.3 million people over 65 suffer from malnutrition, and the vast majority (93%) live in the community “Introduction to Malnutrition,” BAPEN, accessed Aug 2019, http://www.bapen.org.uk/about-malnutrition/introduction-to-malnutrition?showall=&start=4