The role of the carer in identifying malnutrition amongst older people

Written by: Tilly Robinson-Miles, Impact and Policy Officer, The Food Train Ltd

Published: 19/03/2020

Tilly shares tips on eating well for older people based on the work of ALLIANCE members The Food Train and its Eat Well Age Well project.

Malnutrition occurs when a person’s diet does not meet their nutritional needs.

1 in 10 older people are malnourished in the UK (this link will take you away from our website) which equates to 103,000 older people in Scotland (this link will take you away from our website). Malnutrition is preventable. This blog post will discuss the important ways carers can identify malnutrition, and next steps for support in preventing and treating malnutrition amongst older people, based on the work of Eat Well Age Well.

Eat Well Age Well is a National Project, as part of the charity, Food Train (this link will take you away from our website). Eat Well Age Well works in collaboration across all sectors to develop initiatives that make a difference to older people, focusing on the prevention, detection and treatment of malnutrition and dehydration amongst older people living at home in Scotland.

Research shows 93% of older people who are malnourished are living in the community, 5% of individuals are in care homes and 2% of individuals in hospital (this link will take you away from our website) which demonstrates the important role those providing care in the community have in reducing this preventable issue.

Noticing changes

As an individual close to the person you care for, you are key to noticing small changes in their physical appearance and/or attitude towards food and eating. Identifying and acting on these changes is important in identification and prevention of malnutrition.

Look out for physical changes. Are rings looser? Do clothes look baggier? Have they lost a significant amount of weight? Is the person you’re caring for leaving meals half eaten?

Listen out for changes in attitude towards food- phrases such as “I’m not feeling as hungry” or “I can’t be bothered to cook.”

Starting the conversation

If you notice changes, be that physical changes or changes in attitude, it is important you start the conversation around food and eating well.

Food is something we all have in common, we all have favourite foods, memories of eating food as a child or sharing a meal with close friends or food that we would do anything to avoid. Use the universal connector of food to start this conversation, to understand why these changes may be occurring.

Next steps?

Having this conversation will help you to identify ways you can support the older person you care for, for their unique circumstances.

This may include initially supporting with cooking and shopping.

Or may need you to support changes in how they relate to food. The ‘Food First’ video (this link will take you away from our website) tells you a bit more about increasing the protein and calorie content of meals.

Top tips include:

  • Encouraging snacking and eating a little and often
  • Substituting to full fat milk and cream.

If you have ongoing concerns, make sure to see the individual’s GP.

You know the individual you care for, your knowledge and expertise about this individual will allow you support them for their individual needs.

Further training

Eat Well Age Well offers Raising the Issue of Malnutrition training, which aims to increase your knowledge and confidence around identifying and supporting older people at home in the community who are at risk or are suffering from malnutrition. The training is open to anyone who works to support older people living in their own homes in the community and is free to attend. For further information about the training and to book on to the training please visit the Eat Well Age Well website (this link will take you away from our website).

Eat Well Age Well hopes this blog post has shown how important, YOU, as a carer are in identifying malnutrition amongst older people. So, keep an eye out for changes, start that conversation and know where to turn to provide the next step of support.

You are vital to reducing the prevalence of this preventable issue amongst older people.

If you would like more information about the project, please visit the Eat Well Age Well website (this link will take you away from our website) or contact us at hello@eatwellagewell.org.uk

Our member

Our Member

The Food Train Ltd

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