Malnutrition still a problem

The Dietitians Association has published a new study showing malnutrition is a big risk for older people living at home, and wants the condition to be made a national health priority.

Above: Georgie Rist

Older Australians living at home are at significant risk of malnutrition, according to the results of a Melbourne-based study published in Nutrition & Dietetics, the journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA).

Previous Australian research has found more than one in three hospital patients and up to 70 per cent of residents in aged care facilities are malnourished, according to the DAA, which has now called on the federal government to make malnutrition a national health priority.

Georgie Rist, the dietitian who led the study, said nutrition had to be a care priority for community nursing services that provide care to patients in their homes.

Malnutrition is linked with poorer health, leading to an increased burden on health resources, longer stays in hospital and earlier admission to residential aged care, according to Ms Rist.

Ms Rist said that although there is little research into the cost of malnutrition to the community, estimates suggest for every dollar spent on better nutrition for the elderly, five dollars is saved in health care costs. 

“Community nurses are ideally placed to pick-up nutrition issues in older people as they are at the forefront of client care in the home. They have a role to play in nutrition screening and monitoring and providing basic nutrition care, with guidance from a dietitian.” 

The new study was conducted over three months and involved 235 older clients of a Victorian community nursing service, which assessed them for malnutrition using the Nestle Nutrition Institute’s Mini Nutrition Assessment.

The community nurses who administered the assessments found that one in three (34 per cent) were at risk of malnutrition, while eight per cent were actually malnourished.

Nineteen per cent of participants were underweight, 41 per cent were a healthy weight, and 40 per cent were overweight or obese.

Study participants ranged from 65 to 100 years, with an average age of 82. The majority received a pension, with an annual income of less than $30,000, and lived at home, either alone or with a spouse or other family.

The chief executive of the DAA, Claire Hewat, said the study highlighted the vulnerability of older people living in the community.

“Malnutrition is not just due to ageing, and it should not be allowed to persist as though it were a normal part of getting older,” Ms Hewat said.

Otherwise, she said, the problem would only become more widespread among Australians, due to the ageing population.

She added that the federal government’s recently announced aged care reform package – with its strong focus on supporting older people to keep living in their own homes – had further highlighted the need to address malnutrition in community-living older people.

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2 thoughts on “Malnutrition still a problem

  1. I am often amazed by the fear campaign that exists around nutrition and hydration in the elderly. There needs to be a systematic review done on the effects of suppliments and the ageing. A research into the gerontic processes and the natural pathway to the end of life. Residential aged care facilities provide some of the best meals in the country that are designed to meet the needs of the older person. So community issues should be the first thing looked at.
    I will be making some headway into this subject, as it is wrong to see the nursing and aged care -+

  2. Home Instead Senior Care would like to congratulate Georgie Rist and the Melbourne team on this research. As a provider of home care for people in their own home as they age, Home Instead Australia utilised their international caregiving network research and released Cooking Under Pressure, Great Nutrition Tips and Recipes for Seniors in response to local feedback and experience in October 2011.

    The caregiving network found that 62% of adult children caring for an older adult said their senior had three or more nutritional risks including:
    1. Three or more prescribed or over-the-counter drugs per day
    2. An illness or condition that made the senior change his or her diet
    3. Having lost or gained more than 5 kilograms in the past six months without trying

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