Food for the elderly still not providing necessary nutrients, says report 

Care establishments for the elderly are still failing to deliver adequate nutrition to their patients, according to Age UK’s Malnutrition Task Force (MTF). Hospitals and care homes are among the chief offenders, with more than a million patients and residents over the age of 65 suffering from the condition.

The problem, says Age Concern, is a lack of understanding and failure to properly understand how to treat people who are severely undernourished or dehydrated.

These latest figures result from findings of the MTF’s Prevention Programme – piloted in five areas across the north and south of England in 2016.

Costing the health and care system around £20billion a year, malnourished people:

• saw their GP twice as often
• had three times the number of hospital admissions
• stayed in hospital more than three days longer than well-nourished patients

Lesley Carter, programme manager, Malnutrition Task Force and joint head of health influencing, Age UK, was instrumental in the research, published in the State of the Nation report. Lesley says: “There are many examples of good practice with teams up and down the country making real progress on tackling malnutrition, however, efforts are patchy and access to help remains a postcode lottery for older people.”

Expert view

Jeraldine Curran BSc (Hons) Dip ONTCNHC Registered Nutritional Consultant

“One of the best ways to encourage residents to engage with their food is to provide them with meals that stimulate the sense of smell, taste and sight of meals from the past. When developing menus and nutritional programmes, taste is the most important factor however, tailoring menus to individual nutritional needs must also be a consideration. Homemade soups and stews are particularly easy for residents to digest so it’s important that they are made with a variety of nutritious food, which includes vegetables and fresh ingredients. Stomach acid can decline with age so limit raw food. Drinks should always be available for residents and fresh water should be in every room.”

Malnutrition’s menu of shame

  • Of residents admitted to care homes 35% were malnourished
  • Half of all residents admitted to hospital from care homes were at serious risk of malnutrition/dehydration
  • Senior staff and those with financial responsibility were more likely to consider the issue a “low priority” – while more than half of frontline carers said malnutrition was of medium to high priority
  • Of those who needed help 1 in 3 reported that they only sometimes received help or did not receive enough help

Fortify your dishes

  • Adding full-fat foods – like milk, cream, custard and cheese – is a great and easy way to boost protein and calories without adding volume.
  • Introduce high-calorie snacks such as thick and creamy yoghurts, cheese and crackers and cake.
  • Include nourishing drinks such as whole milk, milky coffee, hot chocolate and malted drinks. Mini meals: Not everyone can manage a big breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Supplying small portions regularly (every two to three hours) and including fruit or vegetables in each snack will help to maintain nutrition.
  • Add spreading fat or butter to sandwiches, mashed vegetables and baked potatoes.