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Malnutrition in the Elderly

GPs urged to bring more focus to malnutrition in the elderly.

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As the NHS comes under increasing pressure, it’s impossible to pinpoint why the system has entered a state of crisis; it’s an extremely complex issue. However, there are a number of indicators. The NHS is spending more than ever before, and the ageing population is a major factor in this. Medical advances have meant that people are living longer; when the NHS was created life expectancy was 13 years shorter than it is now. This is of course something to celebrate, but it also comes at a cost.

 One condition which costs the NHS in excess of £19bn each year, but often goes unrecognised, is malnutrition. Over 3 million people in the UK, and one in ten older people, are suffering from, or at risk of malnourishment. Despite this, malnutrition is often overlooked as a serious public health issue. When it takes hold, malnutrition impacts every aspect of a person’s life, including overall sociability and mental wellbeing, not to mention the health risks associated with this debilitating condition. It can cause poor immunity, resulting in increased doctor and hospital visits, longer hospital stays and increased dependency. Thus malnutrition puts a significant strain on the NHS.

Last week, apetito, in partnership with OnePoll, conducted a survey of 2,000 people aged between 30 and 71 who are looking after elderly parents, to find out more about their perceptions of malnutrition.

Our findings told us that neither the elderly, nor their children, are being made aware of malnutrition by their GP. 79% of those questioned said their elderly parents had not discussed malnutrition with their GP, whilst 47% wouldn’t know where to seek advice on this issue. Despite the high prevalence of this condition in the UK, four in ten of those questioned were not aware of the symptoms of malnutrition, with only 31% recognising loose fitting dentures as a warning sign. It was also revealed that almost half (42.6%) of the UK population aged 30-50 is unaware of the serious nature of under-nutrition in the elderly.

As part of The Malnutrition Task Force, apetito urges GPs to do more to tackle this important issue. Obesity is often the main focus for medical practitioners, but in the face of the NHS crisis, more attention should be given to the over shadowed problem of malnutrition. By raising the issue of under-nutrition on their elderly patient agenda, GPs can educate on the signs, symptoms and causes of the condition, so people are aware of this issue, and know how to treat it.