I had my eyes opened this week. I headed to London (on the hottest day of the year) to learn more about malnutrition in the elderly especially after illness. I am a lucky girl as I get to spend lots of time with both of my granddads and visit them weekly for a coffee and a chat. Both live independently at home despite their advancing age and both are relatively healthy (bar a dose of dementia in one). Both have become more frail in recent years and I just put it down to a natural part of ageing. However that perception was changed and challenged this week. I realised that as a generation we need to change that mindset because fragility is not just a consequence of ageing.
According to a recent survey, Britons view frailty as an inevitable part of ageing, leading to acceptance of injuries and fear of dependence in old age.[i] Because of this, many people would just ‘wait and see’ or do nothing if a loved one became more frail3 and, worryingly, this means that older relatives may be a risk of malnutrition as warning signs go unheeded.
I learnt that a shocking 3million + are considered malnourished in the UK and 1 in 3 being admitted to hospital are malnourished. The implications for this is, that recovery from illness or falls takes far longer and this is most prevalent in the over 65’s. Being malnourished can happen even when people seem to be eating. The difference is that as we age nourishment becomes even more important. We start losing muscle from age 40 and as such we need to take steps to replenish and nourish our muscles with protein and other nutrients. Many of the elderly eat what the medical profession often term a tea and toast diet. That is a higher carbohydrate and higher calorie intake when protein is required in larger doses.
If your experience muscle loss everything becomes much harder. To replicate this I was dressed in a sarco suit weighing 20KG then I was asked to carry out some every day tasks including emptying a shopping bag and walking up and down the stairs. Watch this short vlog to observe my experiences.
What are the signs of malnourishment?
There is a handy guide put together by Abbott with a good catchy mnemonic:
I = I will check:
C = Clothing – weight loss can be a sign of malnutrition, so look at clothing. Is it loose or ill-fitting? This could be a sign they’re not eating properly.
A = Appetite – loss of appetite is key. Are they eating less? Do they make excuses about not being hungry? With weight loss, dentures can become loose and ill-fitting making it harder to eat, so watch out for this too.
R = Rings – jewellery can often become ill fitting with weight loss. Keep an eye on items, such as wedding rings, that people may have worn for years suddenly becoming loose.
E = Energy – with lack of food, appetite and weight loss, can also come a lack of energy. Do they seem more lethargic or struggle to keep up in a way they never used to?
At the event there were five of us bloggers who will be working with Abbott to become an advocate for nutritional health in older adults. I will be writing another post with some meal ideas and how families can ensure their loved ones are #nourishingyourmuscles. All of us learnt lots about how it feels to lose muscles and become more frail but we all left feeling energised that we can help educate others that this is not a natural part of ageing and that there are things we can do. We talked about adding in nutritional drinks like Ensure that can give people the nutrients needed. We live in an ageing society and we need to change perceptions about ageing and keeping healthy. If you are caring for anyone learn the signs of malnourishment and look at their diet to see what can be improved, get the GP invloved and hopefully you will be supported by dieticians as those who presented to us demonstrated that there is practical advice that can be given. We met a lady who had had a nasty fall and spent months in hospital, due to good nutrition she was able to recovery to lead an active life once more. Nobody wants to see their loved ones getting weaker and I am pleased to report that it is preventable, treatable and there is expert help out there.
Disclosure: I have been sponsored by Abbott to become an advocate for my granddads nutritional health
[i] Online survey conducted by Abbott Laboratories Ltd. (Frailty in Older Age). 2016