Skip to main content

Malnutrition prevention to support recovery

Did you know that eating less and a reduced appetite aren't actually a sign of ageing and could in fact be a warning sign indicating malnutrition? This Malnutrition Awareness Week learn more about what is being done at Brisbane Waters Private Hospital and what you can do to support older loved ones.

Malnutrition and its impact on the health and wellbeing of patients, particularly in older people when it comes to recovery is something which the team at Brisbane Waters Private Hospital take seriously.

Therefore it’s timely that during the national focus on Malnutrition Awareness Week, the team at Brisbane Waters Private Hospital are sharing some of the strategies that staff have introduced to support patients and some of the warning signs and tips that can empower carers to help their loved ones.

In the last 12 months, a project entitled HUNGER (Helping Under Nourished Get Energy to Recover) has been introduced at the hospital as part of a working group which focuses on empowering nutrition for recovery.

According to Brisbane Waters Private Hospital Nurse Unit Manager Sarah Frame, a raft of changes have been introduced with pleasing results to address and improve nutrition.

“We’ve introduced changes from feeding times, through to allowing for greater gym time to working with our catering manager to change menus and coordinated alongside Occupational Therapists , Dietitians and Physiotherapists to enhance a screening tool to identify potential malnutrition,” she said.

“Through boosting further education, awareness and the importance of nutrition to both staff and patients, we’ve seen an improvement in compliance across a range of areas.

“We have such a large cohort of geriatric patients so this is a really important issue for not only patient health, but in setting them up for recovery and improved wellbeing after their hospital stay.”

Brisbane Waters Private Hospital’s resident expert Geriatrician Dr Peter Lipski has been supporting the project who agrees that malnutrition in the elderly is one of the greatest challenges facing the health system.

“It is a very common problem and also very treatable and reversible and can contribute to serious complications and early death in the elderly,” he said.

“It’s important to make every mouthful count by fortifying meals, better selection of foods and more frequent snacks which contain more calories and protein.”

According to Dr Lipski, losing weight and loss of appetite is not a normal part of ageing and are in fact warning signs for care givers and health care professionals to take action to prevention malnutrition.

“Carers can play an integral role in prevention by taking action around any noticeable decline in functionality or capability of their loved ones, this is especially true when it comes to malnutrition,” Dr Lipski said.

“No one is ever too old for treatment, one of the reasons that Geriatric Medicine is so successful is because there is attention to detail, getting the simple things right and a holistic overview of the whole patient, not such a specific organ approach.

“Many carers are often afraid to confront their elderly loved ones about their health, but it is important to take action when there is any change rather than waiting for a ‘crisis’ to occur.

“Some of the warning signs to look out for include loss of appetite, loss of interest in food, losing weight, smaller meals than usual, having fewer snacks, missing meals, chronic nausea, swallowing problems, teeth and mouth problems, chronic pain, depression, confusion and excess alcohol consumption among others.”

Dr Lipski suggests that some of the ways that carers can tackle malnutrition is through simple steps like trying to have their loved one eat smaller but more frequent meals such as five-six meals a day rather than three large meals.

Other options include adding in protein items such as eggs to each meal, high protein energy fortified supplements and ensuring foods eaten have the highest calorie and protein load as possible.

“It is an absolute myth that frail older people need to eat less, there is no science behind it, if an older person is frail, their protein requirements may in fact be higher than that of an active younger person just to prevent further muscle break down and weight loss,” Dr Lipski said.

A third edition of Dr Lipski’s Book, Your Parent’s Failing Health. Is It Ageing Or A Treatable Condition? is due out later this month.