We are made very aware of the impact of eating poorly in a way that leads to weight gain and issues related to poor diet such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But there is a silent issue of malnutrition that goes unnoticed but is costing a lot in terms of health, quality of life and pressure to our health care systems.
When we think of malnutrition, when people are simply not eating enough, we often think of people in faraway places. Yet there are millions of people whose health is affected by malnutrition close to home. There are many reasons why someone close to you may not be meeting nutritional requirements.
Older people who are frail, people with long term ill health that affects mobility, dexterity or appetite, people with problems swallowing or chewing their food, people recovering from surgery or cancer treatment – all of these groups can be at risk of not getting adequate nutrition for their needs. This makes it more likely for them to fall ill, recovery takes longer, it increases the chances that they need to go to hospital and, if they do, it is likely that their stay will be longer and they are more likely to be readmitted after they return home. Malnutrition affects quality of life and well being in so many ways. And it is preventable and treatable.
Monday was mental health awareness day and mental health issues can also increase the risk of malnutrition. Poor mental health can lead to not eating and poor nutrition can exacerbate depression just as it exacerbates other ill health and slows recovery.
So what can you do?
The message for this year’s Malnutrition Awareness Week is simple:
Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are eating and drinking okay.
Don’t be afraid to ask about somebody’s appetite or ability to prepare food and drink.
It could make all the difference and help you stop malnutrition in its tracks.
Lookout for tell-tale signs of unplanned weight loss such as looser clothing, loose belts or rings or dentures.
You won’t always see weight loss so keep your eyes open for other signs like empty fridges and cupboards
Listen to what people are telling you. That someone is tired, not feeling interested in things that used to make them feel good. That they are not feeling hungry or feeling lonely.
Listen for clues that someone may not be looking after themselves.
Malnutrition doesn’t happen in hospital, malnutrition happens in the community and it is hidden. It is silent. The community needs to be aware and seek it out if we are to reduce its reach. Malnutrition is preventable and treatable. By taking responsibility to ask, look and listen we can all help to prevent and treat it.
ASK! LOOK!! LISTEN!!!