Access Allied Health

Malnutrition in Aged Care Facilities

Access Allied Health - Thursday, March 07, 2013

Would you believe that, in Queensland alone, half of all aged care residents are classified as malnourished?[1].  Well, perhaps a little shockingly, this is what current research shows.  However, what’s even more concerning is that further Australian based research shows that malnutrition is not being recognised in these residents and they are therefore not receiving the correct nutrition intervention[2].

Now this is not at all a reflection on the hard working clinical and support staff working in the aged care sector, but rather brings nutrition into the limelight as an area of aged care needing increased attention.

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition may be defined as a state of nutrition in which a deficiency, excess or imbalance of energy, protein and other nutrients cause measurable adverse effects on tissue (shape, size, composition), function and clinical outcome.  The predominant form of malnutrition in aged care is Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM) which simply means that there are inadequate levels of protein and/or energy to maintain good health.

What does malnutrition look like?

A person with malnutrition may have one or more of the following presentations:

  • Reduced body weight
  • Muscle wasting and decreased strength
  • Reduced respiratory and cardiac muscular capacity
  • Thinning skin and loss of skin integrity
  • Decreased metabolic rate
  • Fatigue
  • Oedema and immunodeficiency

These presentations can compound and have a significant health impact such as:

  • delay in recovery from injury or illness,
  • poor wound healing,
  • increased occurrence of complications,
  • reduced quality of life which can lead to depression and
  • increased risk of falls.

As you can see, malnutrition is linked with poorer health, leading to an increased burden on health resources.

What can be done about malnutrition in the aged care setting?

Prevention is the best remedy for this costly and debilitating condition.  There are some simple but very effective strategies that aged care facilities can adopt to combat malnutrition in their residents.

  • Screening all residents for malnutrition on a regular basis
  • Implementing a protocol for malnutrition including both the screening of residents and an action plan when a resident is identified as having malnutrition
  • Seeking assistance from an accredited practicing dietitian when a resident is identified as having malnutrition

To discuss, assess, review or change the nutrition management procedures at your aged care facility, please speak to an accredited practicing dietitian who can assist you in this process.

[1] Banks M, Ash S, Bauer J, Gaskill D. Prevalence of malnutrition in adults in Queensland public hospitals and residential aged care facilities. Nutrition & Dietetics.  2007: 64:172-178

[2] Gaskill, D., Black, L. J., Isenring, E. A., Hassall, S., Sanders, F. and Bauer, J. D. (2008), Malnutrition prevalence and nutrition issues in residential aged care facilities. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 27: 189–194.

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