Concern of malnourishment in older people

01-04-2021

Research from Age UK reveals that 1 in 10 people over 60 in England have been eating less since the start of the pandemic.

Results from a recent survey of older people by Age UK has raised concern for increased malnourishment amongst the older generation, with 3.7 million people saying that they or others in their household have been unable to eat healthy and nutritious food.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK's Charity Director, said: "We really are worried about the number of 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."

Eating and drinking enough is essential as we age. Being well nourished helps to maintain muscle mass, which in turn improves mobility and reduces falls. It keeps us warm, gives us energy, and is a big mood boost.

Pandemic impact

Before the pandemic, older people were already suffering from or at risk of malnutrition. COVID-19 restrictions instantly 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 reduced essential health care and daily support. As a result, many older people are left feeling isolated and lonely and losing their daily routines - putting them more at risk of becoming malnourished.

Lockdowns have had a significant impact on the older generation as survey findings revealed that nearly half of the respondents who already had difficulty getting to the shops feel that shopping has become even more challenging. While, two in five older people surveyed feel less confident going to the shops by themselves than they used to.

Concern for the older generation

Age UK and Malnutrition Task Force are anxious that this hidden problem of undernutrition and malnourishment in older people is increasing at pace and encourages everyone to reach out to any of their older relatives, friends or neighbours and to also look out for signs that loved ones might be under-nourished.

Dianne Jeffrey, Chair of the Malnutrition Task Force, said: "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."

What can you do?

The Malnutrition Task Force website has information on what to do if someone is underweight or has difficulty eating. They also offer the following advice for older people who are worried about their appetite:

  • Speak to your GP to rule out other health condition, and they can arrange for referrals to a dietician if required.
  • See a dentist if teeth or dentures are a problem.
  • If you cant face a large meal, try small meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • Move to full-fat foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese.
  • If you struggle opening items, buy items that are simple to get into.
  • If you struggle with eyesight, try using a blue coloured plate to help you see what you are eating and ensure that you are getting regular eye tests with your optician.
  • Introduce a routine, for example, a regular snack with your favourite TV show.
  • If you need help shopping, reach out to loved ones or neighbours, look into online shopping or find out what support local Age UKs can offer you.