Keeping to a healthy weight in later life

HERO-fruit and veg buyers

This blog was contributed by Dianne Jeffrey, Chairman of the Malnutrition Task Force and Age UK 

This week is Nutrition and Hydration Week, a brilliant campaign which raises awareness and celebrates food and drink as a way of maintaining health and wellbeing.

I’m certain that no-one doubts the importance of food. It gives us the nutrients we need for energy and to stay healthy; it helps us to stay sharp mentally; it can boost our wellbeing and generally keep us happy.

But let’s not just think in practical terms – the aroma of your favourite food as it drifts into the senses, and the sensations we feel as it hits our taste buds are some of the great pleasures in life. Most importantly, food is something we should continue to look forward to.

Food is so vital to every one of us and we should all strive to eat well and sufficiently throughout our lives.

However, that isn’t always the case.

Although many of us believe that malnutrition, or undernutrition, has been confined to the history books, the reality is different. In the UK, 1 in 10 older people – around 1 million altogether – are undernourished or at risk of undernourishment.

Continue reading “Keeping to a healthy weight in later life”

How carers can take action on weight loss in later life

Jenny And James - Age Uk Case Study by Sam Mellish

This blog was contributed by the Malnutrition Task Force for Carers Week. 

Continue reading “How carers can take action on weight loss in later life”

Is it not normal to lose weight when you get older?

This blog was contributed by Margit Physant, Project Manager for the Malnutrition Task Force.

The Duchess of Windsor is reported to have said that you can never be too rich or too thin. I don’t know about the first but you can be too thin.

440x210_fruit-shoppingMalnutrition refers to low body weight and/or recent weight loss and it is still with us. It is far more common than most people think. It affects all ages, but older people are particularly at risk and more than a million people over the age of 65 are affected.

It is common but it is not a normal part of ageing and it has serious health consequences.  Malnourished people are more prone to infection and take longer to recover if they get ill. It causes misery to older people and their families and is costly to the health service. Continue reading “Is it not normal to lose weight when you get older?”

Barriers to food shopping for older people

This blog was contributed by Gretel Jones, Policy Officer (Consumer Markets) at Age UK. 

Older people are an important and growing consumer group.  For the first time, there are more people aged over 65 than under 16 in the UK.  This growth in the older population is estimated to continue for the foreseeable future.

From a business point of view, older consumers are the only growing market there is.  Sadly, although the Government has recognised the implications of an ageing society on public services, the same does not seem to be the case for the private sector.  Many marketers do not understand or address the older population and consequently this is a segment that often gets misrepresented, neglected or ignored.

Difficulties in getting to the shops

Difficulties increased with age.  While only 8% of 60 to 64 year olds had difficulty this rose to 19% for the 80 to 84s and 60% for those aged over 90.  This is very relevant given it is the older older age group that is estimated to be the fastest growing segment of older people.  This of course is exacerbated for people living in rural areas where public transport links are so poor.  Also relevant to the journey is the difficulty older people have in carrying heavy shopping home.

Difficulties in the store

Poor store layout, poor lighting, aisles that are too narrow and lack of seating and toilet facilities can cause problems. Deep trolleys and freezers make it hard to get shopping out and it is hard to reach up to the top shelf or down to the bottom ones.  Size of fonts on shelf labels can be too small for them to see.

A new problem is lack of confidence in using the self-service checkouts which are bound to be on the increase.

Meeting the needs of older people

Ease of opening of packaging is a constant criticism from older people. Vacuum packs, opening tins and jars and childproof bottles are particularly problematic. But equally difficult is the food information on the packs.  Often in print that is too small and with insufficient colour contrasts makes it difficult to read.

About 37% of older people live alone.  But a lot of other age groups do as well and it is estimated that there will be an 18% growth in single-person households by 2031.  Yet food retailers seem to target larger households which often increases the costs of food shopping for smaller ones.

Age UK’s new report, Food Shopping in Later Life, gives details on six of the shopping services provided by local Age UKs that aim to help older people to shop.  It also makes a number of recommendations for retailers that would be helpful for older people.

Read our new report Food Shopping in Later Life

Find out more about our work on consumer issues

Food for thought

A few weeks ago the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress dominated the headlines as nurses overwhelmingly voted in favour of a motion of no confidence in Andrew Lansley. While NHS reform was the main topic of conversation at the 4 day Congress, it was not the only issue being discussed.

Hospital food by celesteh, via FlickrWe attended the RCN congress to talk about a current problem in our hospitals – older patients becoming malnourished. The statistics show that the number of people entering and leaving hospital malnourished has steadily risen each year – in 2008-09 over 185,000 people left hospital malnourished.

The nurses we spoke to all agreed that this is a problem, but they disagreed over the cause. Many nurses believed that it is caused by the poor quality of food: “Have you seen the food they serve?” “The food looks like slop” are two comments we heard time and time again. Their proposed solution is straightforward – hospitals need to spend more on food so patients can have nutrient rich and appealing food.

While improving the quality of food will help, it will not fully solve the problem. Good quality food is important but hospitals also need to ensure that older people receive the help they need during mealtimes. What’s the point of having a five-star meal if no-one helps you to remove the packaging?

Older people regularly tell us they do not get the help they need at mealtimes – this help could be as simple as ensuring the food tray is placed within reach, to removing packaging as well as assistance with feeding. Without this support older patients go without food and often end up leaving hospital malnourished.

Nurses have told us that the biggest barrier to ensuring patients receive help is time – mealtimes are too short and there are simply not enough nurses to help everyone who requires support at mealtimes. There is no one solution to this; mealtimes could be staggered or extended, hospital volunteers could support patients during mealtimes or more nurses could be employed on wards.

What is clear is that immediate action is required to stop this scandal, otherwise the number of people leaving hospital malnourished will continue to rise.

Find out more about Age UK’s Hungry to be Heard campaign, fighting malnutrition in hospitals.