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The Physical, Social & Psychological Causes of Malnutrition in Older Adults

One in ten older people in the UK are suffering from, or at risk of malnutrition. This relatively unknown, yet significant issue, costs the NHS £19.6 billion per year.1 Malnutrition impacts a person’s wellbeing leading to further problems, such as an increase in hospital admissions, increased dependency and increased risk to life.

The most common causes fall within the physical category. These include medical conditions which result in a lack of appetite, such as cancer and liver disease, or conditions which disrupt the body’s ability to optimally digest food, Crohn’s disease for example. Older people often struggle to consume meals due to physical hindrances such as poor dentition, dysphagia or mobility issues.

Social factors can be extremely instrumental in the development of malnutrition. For older adults in care, the upheaval of moving into a home can cause a loss of identity, confidence and subsequently isolation. With mealtimes being a social occasion, a lack of interaction around food may discourage eating and lead to malnutrition.

Malnutrition is also associated with several psychological issues. Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or a change in mental state due to bereavement can affect a person’s appetite and interest in eating. If insufficient nutrients are consumed, a change in mood and energy levels will occur and a negative cycle will ensue.

Due to the complex nature of malnutrition and myriad causes, there are no blanket measures to prevent its occurrence. However, once the causes of each case are recognised, there are steps which can be taken to manage, treat and prevent reoccurrence of these. These steps fall broadly into two categories; clinical and social interventions.

Clinical interventions include screening, monitoring and the involvement of healthcare professionals. In a care setting, it is essential staff undergo regular screening of residents and are trained in recognising when to involve various healthcare professionals. The social factors are more challenging to address. Successful interventions include lunch and activity clubs, which serve the dual purpose of providing older people with a means of eating, whilst offering them a chance to socialise. Where possible, family and friends should be encouraged to make visits during mealtimes, to help preserve the social aspect of eating.

The physical, social and psychological causes of malnutrition are often interlinked and in many cases, can develop into a downward spiral. Only with improved professional training and public awareness will older people receive the help they need and deserve to live their lives long and to the full.
Apetito can help your home with your residents’ nutritional needs – call today on 01225 560463 or visit www.apetito.co.uk



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