One in Six Elders Living at Home Face Malnutrition

Researchers at Linkoping University, Sweden have found that one in six elders who live at home are undernourished, facing the possibility of complications from malnutrition. The scientists studied 579 older people aged 75 and 80, finding that 14.5 percent, or one in six of the elders studied, were at risk for malnutrition.

Elderly women were found to be at higher risk for undernourishment and malnutrition than were men. Elderly men were at higher risk of being undernourished if they were depressed.

Yvonne Johansson from the Department of Medical and Health Sciences at the University says, "We carried out a wide range of physical and biochemical tests on the people who took part in the study and asked them lots of questions, including how they perceived their health and their health-related quality of life. Our aim was to discover how prevalent the problem was and identify key factors that can predict an increased risk of malnutrition among older people living at home. We discovered that people were most likely to be at risk of malnutrition if they felt their health was poor. The second factor was symptoms of depression – especially in men – and higher age."

The study, performed between 2001 and 2006 in southern Sweden revealed that elderly women living at home were at greater risk for malnutrition than men throughout the study. Women who perceived themselves as unhealthy were at greater for malnutrition from undernourishment. Women facing malnutrition were also more likely to live alone. The difference in risk between men who lived alone and not at risk for malnutrition was not as pronounced.

Undernourishment and risk of malnutrition among elders who live alone was also associated with weakness in handgrip strength. Women who desired less contact with others, perhaps from depression, were also more likely to show signs of undernourishment and malnutrition risk.

"Our population is ageing and it is vital to ensure that health professionals are looking after their nutritional health as well as caring for any medical conditions they may have. This study provides evidence of some of the key warning signs to look out for”, says Johansson.

The study shows that nutrition among elders worsens with age, depression, and with the perception of poor health. Malnutrition, associated with undernourishment is especially high for elderly women who live alone. Caring for elders should include a focus on warning signs of malnutrition, in addition to addressing the medical needs of an ageing population.

Journal of Clinical Nursing