Malnutrition and the elderly


Mummy recently went to London – on the hottest day of the last ten years, to meet with some other bloggers and a team of nutritional experts to talk about malnutrition and the elderly. The meeting, hosted by Abbott was organised by Britmums. Over to Mummy….

Malnutrition and the elderly

‘My Nan is 95 years old, lives independently in her family home, and is pretty great for her age. She is mobile, ‘with it’ mentally – albeit a little forgetful and repetitive and we all love her very much. I have been very worried recently though, about her diet, whether she eats enough, what she eats, and wondering who keeps an eye on this.

This is on my mind more then ever because she has recently come out of hospital following another nasty fall. I attended the event with Abbott and Britmums feeling very curious about what I would learn, and not quite sure what to expect.

Greeting me were a very friendly team comprising of Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of The Patients Association, Kelly Grainger – a dietitian, Carole Glencorse, Medical Director for Abbott’s nutrition business in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Doreen Mills, an 87-year old lady who experienced malnutrition following hospitalisation after a fall, similar to my Nan.

We were talked through exactly what malnutrition is, its effects on the body and mind, and given some startling statistics in relation to malnutrition and the elderly.

There was so much information presented to us, so, in taking on the role of advocate for my Nan’s nutritional health, I want to share with you the points which resonated with me the most. I will also be sharing with you in a later post what you can do to help your elderly loved ones choose the food they need to meet their nutritional needs, whilst thinking about malnutrition and the elderly.

Malnutrition and the elderly

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a deficiency of the nutrients protein, energy or vitamins and minerals. It is when a persons diet does not contain the nutrients they need. This could be because of an inadequate diet, or a problem with absorbing nutrients.(1)

It is both a cause and a consequence of illness.

Did you know that over 3 million people in the UK are affected by malnutrition and that 1 in 3 adults admitted to hospital suffer from it?

In the over 65’s 10% of people are malnourished. (2)

Despite this figure, 88% of people do not recognise the most common signs of malnutrition and a recent survey shows that  only 15% are concerned that their older relatives are not eating as well as they should. (3)

Malnutrition causes harm to body weight & muscle mass, strength & stamina and recovery from infection. This leads to frailty in the elderly. I did not know, for example, that ten days of bed rest – say whilst in hospital can lead to up to 1kg of muscle mass loss in an elderly person.

I was shocked at this information, and by the fact that most people accept frailty as inevitable as we grow older – I did until this conference where I learned that this is not the case at all. Did you realise that muscle loss starts at the age of 40? Now I was even more shocked – I am 45!

What are the signs of muscle loss?

*Becoming less physically active.

*A lack of endurance and stamina.

*No energy.

So, when an elderly relative becomes frail 39% of UK adults ‘wait and see’ what will happen, taking no action, and less than 50% would speak to a doctor. I have to admit that I thought this was just a sign of old age – and discussing with my parents, they agreed.

We can all be proactive regarding our elderly loved ones health by knowing the signs of ageing, and not accepting that frailty is a normal part of growing old. Take action!

So, what are the signs of malnutrition?

I-CARE: Spotting the signs and symptoms of malnutrition in people you care for

In December 2014, with the support of the Patients Association*, Abbott Nutrition launched the I-CARE Checklist to help people spot the signs of malnutrition in their older relatives and friends, and to take action.

Commenting on the I-CARE checklist, Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said : “The Patients Association warmly supports Abbott’s initiative to raise public awareness of malnutrition. As families get together, it’s an ideal opportunity to identify early signs that things may not be quite right. The I-CARE checklist is a useful, practical tool to help people spot the signs and symptoms of malnutrition in their older relatives. It may help provide that early warning sign to encourage loved ones to take action and speak to their doctor.”

Malnutrition (undernutrition) is a serious condition that occurs when a person does not get enough nutrients. This could be because their diet is inadequate, or because they have problems absorbing nutrients from food.1 It may surprise you to know that, in the UK, approximately 1 in 10 people aged over 65 are malnourished.2 However, despite this figure, 88% of people do not recognise the most common signs of malnutrition and only 15% are concerned that their older relatives are not eating well, as shown in a recent survey.3

So help make a difference and think I-CARE. It doesn’t matter how often you see your elderly loved one, recognising the problem is the most important first step. You can follow this check list:

I = I will check:

C = Clothing – weight loss can be a sign of malnutrition, so look at clothing. Is it loose or ill-fitting? This could be a sign they’re not eating properly.

A = Appetite – loss of appetite is key. Are they eating less? Do they make excuses about not being hungry? With weight loss, dentures can become loose and ill-fitting making it harder to eat, so watch out for this too.

R = Rings – jewellery can often become ill fitting with weight loss. Keep an eye on items, such as wedding rings, that people may have worn for years suddenly becoming loose.

E = Energy – with lack of food, appetite and weight loss, can also come a lack of energy. Do they seem more lethargic or struggle to keep up in a way they never used to?

This really made me think about my Nan, her diet, and how we can help her. Through talking to my parents about what I have learned, we are in the process of formulating a plan of action which will help her, and I will share this with you in my second post.

Do you care for an elderly loved one and are you aware of malnutrition in the elderly?’

  1. NHS Choices, 2013: Accessed 20th February 2015.
  2. BAPEN, 2013: Accessed 20th February 2015.
  3. Data on file. Abbott Laboratories., 2014 (Omnibus survey: malnutrition).

I have been sponsored by Abbott to become an advocate for my nan’s nutritional health.


  1. such an important message and a lot of this is applicable to dementia sufferers too.
    ali recently posted…Showing Off The River Island Mini & Boys RangeMy Profile

  2. So what is one supposed to DO when seeing signs of malnutrition? My Mum is 90 and loves alone, 250 miles from me. My brother shops for her twice a week and buys her lots of tempting, nutritious and simple to prepare food. She gets her meal ready – then scrapes it into the bin and has two biscuits and a tin of fizzy pop instead because she says “At my age I should be allowed to have exactly what I want – and that’s what I want!” Any attempt to persuade her to eat properly is met by stubborn, toddler-like refusal. Any mention of how much better she would feel if she would eat well makes her turn the TV on loudly to drown out the conversation. Short of force feeding her, there’s no answer to it.
    Jane Willis recently posted…GDT at Ooh La La Creations ChallengeMy Profile

  3. Such a thought-provoking post. Thanks for raising awareness of this issue. Commenting for myself and on behalf of BritMums and thanking you for taking part.

  4. What a great post, well done for raising awareness on this and best wishes to your Nan!!
    Lianne | TheBrunetteSays… recently posted…L’Occitane Bloggers Event, LeicesterMy Profile

  5. So sad that this is an issue in today’s society!

  6. I think my mum is malnutrition – she a type 2 diabetic and doesn’t eat much healthy stuff. She always tired, never can get up the morning. And out on weight and doesn’t have a healthy glow. She does worry me and I get my sister to have a look at her at weekend when I can’t. My mum stubborn and won’t listen to me, however if I do her shopping and she hungry she will eat but only in small chunk .

    Urghhh It a problem….

  7. Wow, your Nan is doing brilliantly. Those are some scary statistics!
    Kara Guppy recently posted…#Vloject52 2016 – Week 32My Profile

  8. You Nan is doing amazingly well for 95 isnt she and some very good points have been made x

  9. Such an important message and glad you are there to look after them!

  10. I used to work as a carer in care home and they use to teach about malmutrition and what to look out for. I too worry about my nana who is living abroad but I am confident my cousins are looking after them.
    Anosa recently posted…Top Tips for Big Trips – How to Travel With a Large GroupMy Profile

  11. An important issue, well done for raising awareness Kaz
    Becky wilkinson recently posted…Review. MyStyle Wire Craft RingsMy Profile

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