Ways in Which Healthcare Workers can Help Prevent Malnutrition in the U.K.
Malnutrition is a real issue in the UK. It’s estimated that around one in ten people over the age of 65 are malnourished or are at risk of malnutrition – that’s over one million older people in the UK today. So who is at risk and what can be done in Homecare to aid prevention?
Who is at risk of malnutrition?
People who are more likely to become malnourished are those over the age of 65 living in care homes, people who have been admitted to hospital and elderly people who live alone and receive care in their own homes. Those with progressive conditions such as dementia or cancer are particularly at risk.
Malnutrition can also occur in those living in poverty or with decreased mobility and is often a result of individuals not being able to cook for themselves. Many of the signs are visible and may be one of the reasons they are receiving extra support and care.
Signs and symptoms of malnutrition
Being able to quickly recognise the signs and symptoms of malnutrition can help you prevent the issue from worsening.
Common signs and symptoms of malnutrition include:
- Unintentional weight loss, whether quickly or gradually over time
- Having little or no energy, impacting on mobility and ability to perform daily tasks
- A loss of appetite
- Lack of concentration
- Uncharacteristic mood swings
- Taking longer to recover from illness
What are the effects of malnutrition?
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 nourished².
Potential problems could include micronutrient deficiencies such as iron, zinc and multiple vitamins. It may also generate muscle loss, which increases 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 can even lead to death.
How to help prevent malnutrition
It should come as second nature to keep a watchful eye on the well-being of service users, particularly during the hot summer months and cold winters. However, sometimes the effects of malnourishment may be so slow that they are overlooked.
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.
- Malnutrition Task Force information, accessed August 2020, https://www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/programmes/malnutrition-task-force/#:~:text=Malnutrition%20is%20a%20real%20issue,people%20in%20the%20UK%20today.
- 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