Study Finds Older Patients Are Often Malnourished

More than one-half of emergency department patients aged 65 and older who were seen at University of North Carolina Hospitals during an eight-week period were either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.

In addition, more than one-half of the malnourished patients had not previously been diagnosed, according to a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study was published online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

“Malnutrition is known to be a common problem among older adults. What is surprising in our study is that most of the malnourished patients had never been told that they were malnourished," says Timothy F. Platts-Mills, MD, MSc, an assistant professor of emergency medicine in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and senior study author.

"Our findings suggest that identifying malnutrition among older emergency department patients and connecting these patients with a food program or other services may be an inexpensive way to help these patients," Platts-Mills says. "Older adults make more than 20 million visits to US emergency departments each year. Our results add to a growing body of evidence that more needs to be done to develop the capacity of emergencydepartments to address the underlying conditions that impact health for older adults, particularly for those with limited resources.”

The nutritional status of each was assessed using the Mini Nutritional Assessment Short-Form, a six-item tool that combines BMI and the patient’s answers to questions about weight loss, decline in food intake, recent stress or disease, mobility, and neuropsychological disorders. The results produce a score from 0 to 14. Malnutrition is defined as a score of 7 or lower; at risk of malnutrition is defined as a score from 8 to 11.

Sixteen percent were found to be malnourished, and most of these (77%) said they had not previously been diagnosed as malnourished. Sixty percent were found to be either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.

There were no significant differences in the prevalence of malnutrition between men and women, across levels of education, or between those living in urban vs rural areas. However, the prevalence of malnutrition was higher among patients who reported having depressive symptoms, difficulty eating (due to dental pain, ill-fitting dentures, etc) or difficulty buyinggroceries (due to lack of transportation or money.)

Source: University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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