Older people need to eat well to stay healthy

Dietitian Helen Wills urges community nurses to ensure the elderly living alone are not malnourished

Age UK research shows that more than one million of people aged over 65 are malnourished. Such figures serve as a stark reminder to anyone working with older people of what still needs to be done to support our ageing communities who are not eating well enough.

All nurses know the importance of nutrition to longer life and independent living, and each week there seems to be new academic research reinforcing the fact that a healthy, balanced diet helps to prevent dementia, stroke, heart disease and depression.

Yet, as we get older we’re faced with increasing barriers to eating well, from lack of appetite, to reduced mobility and strength, specific health conditions like dysphagia, and even loneliness. One in ten over-75s experience intense loneliness all the time and we know this can impact on their diet. More needs to be done to ensure older people living alone in our communities are not falling through the cracks.

Qualified dietitians will always be best placed to offer specific advice for patients, but other healthcare professionals and community organisations play an important role in promoting nutrition and wellbeing. Community practitioners are often the only people these individuals see from week to week and they understand their personalities and routines, and notice when these habits or characters change.

That’s why tackling malnutrition is a wider issue that requires better collaborative working between healthcare professionals and community organisations. Anyone in this community network should play a role in identifying the early indicators of malnutrition before it becomes a health issue that needs referring to a dietitian.

As we grow old, we all hope to live independently, and happily, in our own homes for as long as possible. So we need to demonstrate to patients the importance of nutrition in achieving this and to empower our ageing society to take more care of their diets to ensure greater wellbeing and independence in later life.

About the author

Helen Willis is a dietitian at Wiltshire Farm Foods

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