This week (5th-12th October 2020) is Malnutrition Awareness Week in the UK and is run by BAPEN (British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition) and the Malnutrition Task Force.
Did you know that 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition?
Let’s start at the beginning by explaining what we mean by malnutrition. Malnutrition is the inadequate intake of nutrition that results in negative effects on an individuals health and wellbeing. One of the most common signs of malnutrition is unintentional weight loss i.e. weight loss that occurs without any specific action being taken to result in this change.
Other signs and symptoms of malnutrition include:
- loss of appetite
- tiredness and fatigue
- reduced ability to perform normal tasks
- reduced physical performance – for example, not being able to walk as far or as fast as usual
- altered mood – malnutrition can be associated with lethargy and depression
- poor concentration
Some of these signs may be easy to spot but others may be less obvious to spot. Therefore, it is important we are aware of these signs and symptoms and how to detect changes that may increase someone risk’s of malnutrition.
Unintentional weight loss can occur gradually and sometimes be difficult to spot and recognise. However, these are some simple tips you can use to help recognise it, including:
- dentures feeling loose or moving when talking/eating
- jewellery i.e. rings and watches, feeling loose
- clothes becoming loose
What are the consequences of malnutrition?
Malnutrition effects every part of the body therefore it can have serious effects on our body functions. It can slow down our recovery, increase our susceptibility to illness, increase complications and if left untreated, may lead to death.
- The immune system: our immune system becomes impaired during states of malnutrition which can lead to a loss of immune function. This results in increased susceptibility to illness and not being able to fight off infections.
- Muscle strength: in a state of malnutrition, loss of muscle strength and function is observed. This occurs due to an inadequate dietary intake of protein and energy and our body compensates by using the protein in our muscles as an alternative source of energy. Loss of muscle strength and function may result in an increased risk of falls, reduced ability to perform daily activities such as cooking, reduced ability to cough may predispose to chest infections, and heart failure.
- Wound healing: Optimal wound healing requires adequate nutrition. Malnutrition will delay, inhibit and complicate the wound healing process. Our protein needs in particular, increase during wound healing. Therefore, malnutrition coupled with not meeting these increased nutritional needs can have serious and detrimental effects to wound healing.
So what can we do to identify malnutrition?
1 in 10 people over the age of 65 are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. Unintentional weight loss can be a sign of malnutrition, therefore self-screening in older people can be a useful tool to check that you are not losing too much weight.
Self-screening can take many forms but asking yourself or your loved ones the following questions can be a good starting point:
- Are you or your family concerned that you may be underweight or need nutritional advice?
- How you lost weight unintentionally in the last 3-6 months?
- Have you noticed that your clothes or rings have become loose recently?
- Have you recently found that you have lost your appetite and/or interest in eating?
If you answered YES to these questions, it is important that you discuss this with your GP.
Further information about self-screening and a range of different tools that can help have been produced by the Malnutrition Task Force, click here.
Identification of malnutrition or risk of malnutrition is key to ensuring appropriate action is taken. There may be simple changes that can be taken at home or you may require further support from a dietitian.
My next blog post will discuss how malnutrition is managed. However, if you are concerned about unintentional weight loss and loss of appetite, please discuss with a healthcare professional.
I provide 1-1 online video consultations for a range of different dietary needs. If you would to discuss how I can could help you, please click here.
Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.