Media release: Dietitians Association of Australia
Date: April 2012
A new study has found malnutrition is rife in community-living older Australians, with more than 40 per cent either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.
The Melbourne-based study, published in the Dietitians Association of Australia’s journal Nutrition & Dieteticsi, has prompted calls from dietitians for routine nutrition screening and targeted nutrition programs to address malnutrition.
Over a three-month study period, community nurses in Victoria assessed 235 clients aged 65 years and older for malnutrition. One in three (34 per cent) were identified as being at risk of malnutrition, while eight per cent were found to be malnourished.
Nineteen per cent of participants were underweight, 41 per cent were a healthy weight, and 40 per cent were overweight or obese.
Study participants ranged from 65 to 100 years, with an average age of 82. The majority received a pension, with an annual income of less than $30,000, and lived at home, either alone or with a spouse or other family.
Dietitians Association of Australia CEO Claire Hewat said: ‘This study highlights the vulnerability of older people living in the community. Malnutrition is not just due to aging, and it should not be allowed to persist as though it were a normal part of getting older.’
According to Ms Hewat, the Federal Government’s recently-released 10-year plan to reshape aged care, beginning 1 July 2012 and involving making it easier for older Australians to stay in their own homes, further highlights the need to address malnutrition in community-living older people.
She said malnutrition is likely to get worse as the Australian population ages.
Study leader Georgie Rist, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, said: ‘Malnutrition is linked with poorer health, meaning increased GP visits, more admissions to hospital and longer hospital stays, and early admission to nursing homes.’
Ms Rist said although there is little research into the cost of malnutrition to the community, estimates suggest for every dollar spent on better nutrition for the elderly, five dollars is saved in health care costs.
She said nutrition needs to be a care priority for community nursing services providing care to patients in their homes.
‘Community nurses are ideally placed to pick-up nutrition issues in older people as they are at the forefront of client care in the home. They have a role to play in nutrition screening and monitoring and providing basic nutrition care, with guidance from a dietitian,’ said Ms Rist.
Ms Hewat said targeting malnutrition among older Australians needs support from government, and she called on the Federal Government to make malnutrition a national health priority.
Previous Australian research has found more than one in three hospitals patients and up to 70 per cent of residents in aged care facilities are malnourished.
For further information or to organise an interview with Georgie Rist, contact Holly Smith, Dietitians Association of Australia on 0409 661 920.
Note to Editors: The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) is the professional body representing dietitians nationally. Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is the only national credential recognised by the Australian Government, Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs and most private health funds as the quality standard for nutrition and dietetics services in Australia. For more information visit www.daa.asn.au
The Media Centre on the DAA website contains DAA’s Media Releases and positions on topical nutrition issues in the media.
i Rist G, Miles G, Karimi L. The presence of malnutrition in community-living older adults receiving home nursing services. Nutr Diet
ii Watterson C, Fraser A, Banks M et al. Evidence based practise guidelines for the nutrition management of malnutrition in adult patients across the continuum of care. Nutr Diet 2009; 66: S1-34.