2,000 older Islanders ‘may be malnourished’

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The subject has come into focus as part of Malnutrition Awareness Week, which is seeking to highlight a problem that is of growing concern among health officials in Jersey and the UK.

Senior dietitian Anna Pallot said that although there were no specific figures regarding the extent of the issue in Jersey, the Island was likely to be similarly placed to the UK, where 10% of over-65s are estimated to be affected.

The 2019 population update by Statistics Jersey estimated there were 18,460 Islanders aged 65 or over.

‘Malnutrition is a significant issue and is something that I and my colleagues see on a daily basis, either in clinics or during hospital visits,’ Ms Pallot said. ‘There are a lot of myths and disinformation around the subject, for example people who wrongly believe that it is normal to lose weight as you get older.’

Other misconceptions include the belief that malnutrition is primarily an issue for less developed areas and would not be a major concern in jurisdictions such as Jersey and the UK, she added.

The topic is being highlighted as a result of the adverse consequences of malnutrition among older people.

‘If you are malnourished you are more likely to be ill or to have a fall, and if you have been ill, or had surgery, then your recovery will be slower,’ Ms Pallot said. ‘If you are in hospital for longer, the cost of your stay will be greater, and ultimately there are higher death rates among those who have been diagnosed with malnutrition.’

Ms Pallot said the issue pre-dated the Covid-19 pandemic, although some older Islanders might have been less likely to go out shopping or socialising in recent months.

Specialist oncology dietitian Laura Foster, who works for the cancer charity Macmillan, said her role involved assessment and treatment of patients with a cancer diagnosis.

‘Malnutrition can vary in severity and can be difficult to diagnose,’ she said. ‘Our first-line approach is to promote a high-calorie and high-protein diet to help combat this.’

People should be able to discern weight loss, even if they did not own scales or regularly weigh themselves, Ms Pallot added. Clothing might feel looser, while rings might slip off fingers and dentures might not fit as well, and a loss of appetite was another sign.

Paul Simmonds, senior manager at Age Concern Jersey, said the organisation delivered both hot and frozen meals each day, along with a range of desserts, describing the dishes as ‘familiar favourites with a good balance of carbohydrates and proteins’.

‘Loneliness can lead to a lack of motivation to prepare a meal, so we are safely taking small groups out on trips around the Island for afternoon tea and some much-needed social interaction,’ he said.

Meals on Wheels also delivers food to around 90 Islanders from Tuesday to Friday every week, charging £3.60 for a two-course meal prepared by hospital catering staff.

‘Our meals arrive at lunchtime and are hot and ready to eat,’ said chairman Hilary Grant. ‘A big percentage of our clients really feel the benefit of not having to cook, and the meals give them a real boost.’

Mrs Grant said the Meals on Wheels service was entirely run by a group of volunteers, but added that new volunteers were always welcome.

Islanders who have lost weight can take early steps to address the issue. Measures recommended by dietitians include:

  • Aim to include smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Prioritise the highest-calorie (nutrient-dense) part of meals, i.e. carbohydrate and protein.
  • Do not be afraid to have a pudding.
  • Try to include nourishing drinks throughout the day, i.e. hot chocolate, glass of milk, Ovaltine etc.

Those needing help can obtain it from a range of sources, including Age Concern, the Connect Me scheme and home delivery services, some of which have connections to individual parishes. These organisations are being highlighted as part of Malnutrition Awareness Week and will be promoted throughout the coming winter.

Information from the Malnutrition Task Force and BAPEN, UK-based organisations specialising in nutritional interventions, will be distributed across healthcare settings to ensure that staff are reminded of the signs and symptoms of malnutrition, which may sometimes be mistaken for other conditions.

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