Malnutrition is a very real problem and Covid-19 has seen issues worsen, a charity has said
Malnutrition rates among older people in Scotland are worsening - fuelled by increased social isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a charity fears.
Food Train, which helps people aged 65 and over to eat well and live well in their own homes, says action must be intensified nationally - with screening stepped up - to ease the strain on health and social care services and to support older people to live better lives.
Its leaders have shared concerns as UK Malnutrition Awareness Week (October 11-17) gets underway and encouraged people to help them build a true picture of the scale of the problem across Scotland.
While official estimates place one in 10 older people as being either malnourished or at risk of becoming so, experts with Food Train’s Eat Well Age Well project say their intelligence suggests the reality is higher - between 20% and 30%.
Eat Well Age Well is the Food Train initiative focused on the prevention, detection and treatment of malnutrition and dehydration among older adults living at home.
Project manager Laura Cairns said: “We know that malnutrition is a problem faced by worrying and unacceptable numbers of older people across Scotland - and we fear that this has only worsened during the pandemic.
“Early identification of malnutrition is critical. It is vital that we build a clear picture of the issue and we are calling on carers, volunteers and everyone working in community settings working with older people to help us identify malnutrition early and uncover the true prevalence of malnutrition.
“Most malnutrition occurs in people living at home. Yet these rates are less well known in comparison to those reported during hospital admissions or care home/residential care.
“There is an urgent need to better understand the true picture of malnutrition to inform local and national policy and practice and to help older people live healthier, better lives.
“Malnutrition in the over-65s can have a devastating effect on physical health and emotional wellbeing, adding significant pressures to health and social care services which can be eased. We cannot afford to overlook this.
“We are grateful for the Scottish Government’s funding support to help us continue our important work working with many national and local organisations raising the issue and embedding prevention and early identification into routine practice, and rolling out greater levels screening to make a difference.”
Community groups and other organisations interested in taking a preventative approach are urged to contact Eat Well Age Well, which can provide training and support.
Among the groups supported by Eat Well Age Well is Kennoway Community Shed in Levenmouth, Fife.
Having received a grant through the charity’s Small Ideas, Big Impact Fund, which supports grassroots projects centred on helping older people live better through food, the group also implemented screening for malnutrition and staff briefings. That included the use of paperweight armbands to check for unintended weight loss and Patients Association Nutrition Checklist - a series of simple questions.
Kennoway Community Shed chairman Bob McPhail said: “Through that work, we were able to get advice for a handful of our members about their diet and some simple changes they could make. Some went on to speak to their families about nutrition too.
“I would encourage any group working with older people to carry out the screening. Don’t be afraid of doing it. It can all just happen while having a cup of tea and a blether, but it could make a real difference to an older person’s life.”
Food Train is also working as part of an alliance in the Scottish Borders - the first on its scale in Scotland - which is raising awareness to better identify those at risk, or suffering from, malnutrition and help them back to health.
It involves Scottish Borders Council, NHS Borders third sector groups, care organisations and social landlords and will see their staff trained to spot the signs of malnutrition, to help identify the need for nutritional help and point people towards support that should prevent problems from escalating.
The model is one that supporters hope could be rolled out across Scotland.
A report published last year by University of Glasgow academics - researched in partnership with Food Train - recommended that community screening for early signs of malnutrition should be mandatory for all statutory agencies with a role in supporting older people and that training on malnutrition and unintentional weight loss should be embedded into basic training for all health and social care professionals.
It also called for increased investment in community initiatives that address social isolation by providing befriending and opportunities for older people to eat, shop or cook with others.
Older people with concerns about malnutrition - or anyone with concerns about an older person - can call Eat Well Age Well’s Malnutrition Advice Line on 0800 13 88 220. Advice is also available at www.eatwellagewell.org.uk. This is not an emergency line. People with immediate concerns about health and wellbeing should phone their GP or NHS 24 on 111.