A recent State of the Nation report published by the Malnutrition Task Force called “Older people and malnutrition in the UK today” focuses on the scale of the challenge of malnutrition in later life.
As Come Eat Together aims to improve people’s access to and enjoyment of healthy, nutritious food in later life, we were interested to see what it said. We thought we would share some of the key findings with you.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition means literally poor or bad nutrition. It is both a cause and a consequence of ill health and is a silent and, all too often, hidden problem. It will affect health and wellbeing, increasing hospital admissions, and can lead to long-term health problems for otherwise healthy and independent older people.
For many older people, malnutrition is characterised by low body weight or weight loss, meaning simply that some older people are not eating well enough to maintain their health and wellbeing. It is usually unintentional and often goes unrecognised until it begins to impact seriously on someone’s health. It can be a cause and a consequence of ill-health and can lead to long term conditions and increasing hospital admissions.
Of the 11.6 million older people in the UK, over a million are estimated to be malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. This means that on average around one in ten people over the age of 65 are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.
The Malnutrition Task Force has identified a number of factors
Lack of awareness
- Lack of recognition that widely publicised advice about diet and nutrition is often unsuitable for older or more vulnerable members of society.
- A myth that it is ‘normal’ to get thin as you get older, with people believing that becoming frail is all but inevitable in later life.
- Health messages and public health policy are preoccupied with obesity, so that weight loss is seen as desirable.
- Although physical health and long term conditions such as COPD, poorly fitting dentures or dental problems and Dementia impact on diet, social factors impact greatly on malnutrition.
- More than 1 million older people in the UK say they often or always feel lonely. Loneliness is frequently under-recognised or diagnosed.
- Feeling lonely is related to a sense of loss of a role or a lack of people to identify with. Some people can feel lonely in a group whilst others enjoy being alone.
- Loneliness and a lack of sense of belonging or purpose can lead to depression, a lack of interest in food and cooking, or a belief that such activities have no value. This increases a person’s risk of malnutrition, ill health and makes loneliness worse.
Isolation – stuck at home or lacking good company
- Isolation is defined as a lack of contact with other people.
- Reasons include feeling trapped at home, moving house in later life or a lack of engagement within their community or support to do so. According to a survey in 2014, 2.9 million people aged over 65 in Britain feel they have no one to turn to for help and support.
- Enforced isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, loss of appetite and ill health.
Transitions or big changes in later life
Transitions in later life, such as bereavement or becoming a carer for a loved one can lead to loss of appetite and struggling to cook and maintain good nutrition. Yet those life changes are common among older people.
- Carers – Every year, over 2.1 million adults become carers and almost as many people find that their caring responsibilities come to an end, meaning that caring will touch the lives of most of the population. Today, almost 1.3 million people in England and Wales aged 65 or older are carers.
- Bereavement – In later life bereavements occur more frequently and are more common. Older people commonly experience loss of a husband, wife or partner, siblings and other relatives, friends, former colleagues and associates. Loss through bereavement can be a major stress, and along with other losses experienced in later life, can reduce older people’s ability to cope and be independent.
These life changes may mean that people have less money or have to eat, sleep and live alone for the first time, or be faced with household or financial tasks that they haven’t done before. They may become lonely and isolated, and lose appetite or struggle to cook for themselves.
Low income can affect access to basic necessities like heating, transport and food as well as opportunities to meet people, socialise and stay in touch with family and friends. This can lead to loneliness, isolation and depression and an overall reduction in quality of life.
Our Come Eat Together project makes a big difference
The report states that community based activities are an important means of reducing malnutrition because of the positive social benefits.
Come Eat Together has been praised in the past by the Malnutrition Task Force for the way in which we improve older people’s ability to access, cook and enjoy healthy food together; helping them to become more resilient and better able to cope with life changes such as retirement, bereavement or ill health.
Our lunch clubs, breakfast clubs and dining circles, bring people together to enjoy good food in company with support, activities and information. Door to door shopping clubs mean easy access to the large shops with company. Our ‘Eat Well Feel Great’ course shows people how to adapt their diet for later life and how easy it is to make meals tasty and nutritious. Sessions showing people how to grow fruit and vegetables at home and how to shop online promote new interests and independence.
An interim evaluation report on Come Eat Together from the Institute of Health and Society/Institute for Ageing at Newcastle University reported that
“Come Eat Together has successfully adopted an assets-based approach to build on and strengthen the support for older people available in the community. The community assets upon which Come Eat Together has built its activities include local volunteers, people with food-related expertise, venues able to cater for groups of older people and community transport providers. Lunch clubs set in community colleges have provided valuable opportunities for positive intergenerational exchanges, while the Healthy Eating and Grow to Eat course have allowed retirees with expertise relating to nutrition or gardening to share their knowledge and advice with attendees.”
“Come Eat Together has used innovative thinking and learning from experience to tackle the challenges of reaching isolated older people and delivering a sustainable service. From first-hand experience, Age UK County Durham has learnt that different communities have different requirements, and has developed a tailored approach to setting up new activities, which they will be able to draw on for future service design and delivery.”
If you feel lonely or know someone who would benefit from joining Come Eat Together why not contact us on 0191 374 6577 or firstname.lastname@example.org