Charity warns of hidden malnourishment in older people

One in four over 60s say that either they or others in their household have been unable to eat healthy and nutritious food during the pandemic.

Analysis from Age UK found that 1.4m older people aged over 60 in England have been eating less since the start of the pandemic and could therefore be at a greater risk of becoming malnourished.

While 3.7m say that either they or others in their household have been unable to eat healthy and nutritious food.

The charity said lockdowns have left some older people with reduced appetites and less able to shop for, prepare and eat enough good food. Age UK is worried that this hidden problem of undernutrition and malnourishment in older people is increasing at pace.

A survey by Age UK found that 49% of people who already had difficulty going to the shops saying this has become harder. While 43% of older people said they feel less confident or much less confident going to the shops by themselves than they used to

Eating and drinking enough is especially important as we age. Being well nourished helps to maintain muscle mass, which in turn improves mobility and reduces falls. It keeps us warm, and gives us energy, as well as being a big mood boost that enables us to continue to do all the things that are important to us.

Before the pandemic 1.3 million[iv] older people were already suffering from or at risk of malnutrition in the UK. Covid-19 restrictions instantly and dramatically increased the amount of time older people have been isolated from family, friends and carers.

People were left alone and vulnerable, with the anxiety of catching the virus, restricted access to food shopping and a reduction in essential health care and daily support.

This resulted in many older people feeling isolated and lonely and losing their daily routine has put many more older people at risk of becoming malnourished.

Age UK is calling on everyone to start a friendly conversation with the older people in their lives to ensure they are having enough to eat and drink after an incredibly tough year of coronavirus and the restrictions it has imposed on us all.

The charity is also encouraging people to look out for signs that loved ones maybe be under-nourished.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: ‘We really are worried about the number of older people who are now reporting they are not eating enough and it’s vital that we all raise the issue of eating well and getting enough nutrients with our older relatives and friends, sensitively and supportively.

‘When we are able to see them face to face we should take the chance to look out for warning signs that they may not be getting enough to eat – like rings being loose and slipping off, clothes looking too big, belts needing to be tightened.

‘It is sometimes quite difficult to recognise that an older person may unintentionally be losing weight.

‘If older people become malnourished this can have serious implications for their health. Not eating and drinking enough increases the risk of infection and falls and worsens any existing long-term conditions.

‘It also makes it harder for people to recover from an episode of ill health. We all need to do everything we can to help our loved ones, friends and neighbours to keep up their nutritional intake, and enjoy it too.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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