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NOV 28/2018

Identifying and Preventing Elderly Malnutrition

With an estimated 1.3 million people over 65 suffering from malnutrition1, undernourishment is a widespread problem in the UK and one that costs the health and social care system over £19.6 billion each year2.Elderly hands

Who are at risk?

People who are more likely to become malnourished are those that are over the age of 65 and living in care homes, people who have been admitted to hospital and elderly people who live alone and receive care in their own home, especially when they have a progressive condition such as dementia or cancer.

Other factors which may introduce the development of malnutrition includes those in poverty, people whom have lost the sense of smell or taste, decreased mobility and those not being able to cook for themselves – many of which are visible as a result of having to receive extra support and care during later life.

How to identify malnutrition

People suffering from malnutrition may:

  • Be seen to be losing weight, whether quickly or gradually over time,
  • Have little or no energy, impacting their mobility and ability to perform daily tasks,
  • Experience a loss of appetite or lack of concentration,
  • Have a change in their mood.

What are the consequences?

Malnutrition heightens the possibility of illness. As a result, GP visits can double and hospital emissions triple. It’s also been found that people who are malnourished are likely to stay in hospital three days longer than those who are well nourished3.

Potential problems could include micronutrient deficiencies such as iron, zinc and multiple vitamins. It may also generate muscle loss, which would increase the risk of falls through reduced mobility, the breakdown of vital organs such as kidneys and the brain plus a reduced efficiency to fight infections. Severe consequences of untreated malnutrition could even lead to death. 

What can we do in homecare to aid prevention?

It should come as second nature to keep a watchful eye on the well-being of our service users, but sometimes the effects of malnourishment may be slow enough to become an oversight.

Pay close attention to the eating and drinking habits of your service users. Are they drinking enough fluids and eating during your visit times? Has their mood changed and are they less active around the house? An easy identifier is the fitting of clothes, jewellery or dentures. If they are loose fitting it’s time to raise the alarm with the branch staff.

If you are unsure whether a service user is malnourished and need some advice, always speak to the branch and note down any changes when on the visit. The branch will then follow the necessary procedures to support prevention before their health is severely impacted.

If you are not a care professional but have elderly neighbours, take the time to observe the potential warning signs and ask them how they’re feeling. Early treatment could prevent lengthy hospital admissions and reoccurring health problems.  


If you know anyone who would like to make a difference in your community by caring for the elderly, share this article or click here for more information.



  1. “Introduction to Malnutrition,” BAPEN, accessed Jan 2018,
  2. “The cost of malnutrition in England and potential cost savings from nutritional interventions,” Elia M.on behalf of the Malnutrition Action Group of BAPEN and the National Institute for Health Research Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, accessed January 2018,, p.5
  3. Guest, J. F., Panca, M., Baeyens, J.P., de Man, F., Ljungqvist, O., Pichard, C.,Wait, S & Wilson, L., ‘Health economic impact of managing patients following a community-based diagnosis of malnutrition in the UK’, Clinical Nutrition, Volume 30, Issue 4 , Pages 422-429, August 2011

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