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Posted on 19th February 2018

Hunger and Malnutrition in the Elderly: What You Can Do

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By: Jane Roche, freelance writer and editor. Jane has written for both digital and print across a wide variety of fields. Her main interest is exploring how people can improve their health and well being in their everyday life.

The recently released APPG report “Hidden hunger and malnutrition in the elderly” paints a worrying picture about the state of malnutrition and hunger amongst the elderly population of the UK, reporting that over a million older people are likely to be, or are at risk of, malnutrition. It shows that this is not a lone problem, but heavily entwined with problems of social isolation, and the consequences of cuts in spending on health and wellbeing services such as ‘Meals on Wheels’. However, the report did also produce recommendations – and if you are looking to help yourself, or senior friends and relatives, then there are few things which you can start to do yourself.

Moving forward: recommendations

Recommendations from the report centre largely on the big picture, looking at public policies which will influence the wider issues faced by the elderly. Malnutrition and hunger go hand in hand with social isolation, illness, and mobility problems. It can be something of a vicious circle, beginning with one problem and leading to several more. Seniors are more prone to illness or falls, and increasingly frail people tend to stay confined in their homes more. This is often exacerbated by loss of subsidised public transport or a driving licence. This can lead to a lack of social contact, which increases the likelihood of mental health issues, poor sleep, and compromised immune system. It also means that the opportunity to buy enough good quality food is reduced – leading to malnutrition, which in turn, can make illness and confinement more likely. Breaking this cycle by helping to eliminate one or more of the problems is the next step.

Doing your bit and getting involved

Helping your elderly relatives, friends, and neighbours to keep getting out and about is vital. Enabling them to meet friends, eat a good hot meal, and remain active, rather than just being stuck at home alone can make a huge difference in quality of life. You might be able to give them a lift to the supermarket or a social club, help to cook batches of healthy meals for the freezer, or drop by for a cup of tea on your way home from work.

Changing nutritional needs

Making sure that your senior friends are eating a balanced and nutritious diet will help them to maintain a good weight and healthy immune system – but they may have slightly different needs to you. Long term illnesses may need specific diets designed to cater for certain nutritional deficiencies or issues, and it’s also worth being aware that stresses and changes in life, as well as illness, can affect weight and appetite. Although daily caloric requirements decrease, seniors still need the same quality and amount of nutrients and vitamins – and in some cases more, as the body becomes less efficient at absorbing them.

Helping your senior friends and relatives to eat well, stay active, and keep social can really help to tackle the risks of isolation and malnutrition identified in the APPG report. While it is hoped that the recommendations will be taken on board by the government and widespread help for the elderly will increase, it’s important to do what you can to assist as well.