Launching on the International Day of Older Persons, the first ever UK Malnutrition Awareness Week seeks to raise awareness of the ‘hidden’ problem of malnutrition in older people.
Nearly half (45%) of British adults believe that losing weight in later life is normal (i.e. those aged 75 and over), when in fact unintended weight loss can be a sign of malnutrition.
The research, carried out last month, also showed that people may not know how to help themselves or others take steps to avoid becoming malnourished or dehydrated. Four in 10 adults wrongly believe that high calorie foods such as biscuits and cakes should always be avoided even if you are underweight, and nearly 60% of British adults mistakenly believe that coffee is mainly dehydrating.
One in 10 people aged over 65 in the UK (1.3 million) is malnourished or at risk of becoming malnourished, and over 90% are living at home. More than a third (35%) of people admitted to care homes and one third of older people admitted to hospital are identified as at risk of malnutrition. Older people who are malnourished have more hospital admissions and stay in hospital longer than well-nourished individuals.
UK Malnutrition Awareness Week is a new campaign launched through a collaboration between BAPEN and Age UK’s Malnutrition Task Force. Taking place from 1st to 7th October the campaign is set to raise awareness of the risk factors, signs and symptoms and impact of malnutrition and dehydration. This year’s campaign focuses particularly on the problem of ‘hidden’ malnutrition in the elderly, which was also highlighted in the “Hidden hunger and malnutrition in the elderly” report, published at the start of this year by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger.
Dr Simon Gabe, President of BAPEN, says: “Too many older people are being admitted to hospital either already malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. The survey results show that there is work to do with the public to alert them to the warning signs and to eradicate myths about food and drink, but we are also calling on frontline health and social care professionals to spot people at risk, actively screen using the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool, and to encourage people to complete online self-screening.”
Dr Gabe continues: “We believe that if we can drive wider uptake and more regular use of the Nutritional Care Tool we will be able to generate the nationwide data that is needed to identify and drive further improvements in the quality of care. It only takes five minutes to complete per person and crucially you can use it to improve the nutritional care you are giving whilst the patient is still in your care. We are urging teams to sign people up this week.”
The annual cost of malnutrition to the health and care system in England is estimated to be around £19.6 billion. To coincide with UK Malnutrition Awareness Week, BAPEN has published “Managing malnutrition to improve lives and save money”. The report proposes ideas for tackling the cost burden of malnutrition in the UK and emphasises actions that can be taken to improve malnutrition management.