How Covid-19 has increased the risk of malnutrition in elderly people and how you can help

It’s Malnutrition Awareness Week 2020. Registered nutritionist Fran Taylor explains the risks of malnutrition and what can be done to avoid it.

Did you find it difficult to get food during any point during lockdown? Did you worry about going into shops? Did you have to go out of your way to get food? I bet you’re nodding to at least one of these questions…

toastNow imagine you are older, frailer, and living alone. This coupled with a limited budget and an increasing feeling of loneliness and anxiety about the pandemic, could lead to not getting enough food, not getting the right balance of food, or not having the motivation to cook or eat – creating a real risk of undernourishment. It is estimated that 1 in 10 over 65-year olds who live at home are malnourished, and worryingly, this statistic was estimated before COVID-19.

Raising awareness of the risks of malnutrition for older adults that live in our community, and those people who care for them, is really important right now. Malnourishment can result in several serious health problems including an increased risk of infections and slower recovery from illness, which could mean a less positive outcome when coping with COVID-19.

front doorThere is also the vicious cycle of muscle wasting, weakness and confusion which can increase the risk of falls. This can knock a person’s confidence to walk outside, leading to both physical and social isolation which is also linked with a loss of appetite and reduced food intake, further increasing malnutrition risk. Covid restrictions may have exacerbated this too; group activities for older adults like social clubs and lunch clubs have mostly lost their face to face contact since mid-March.

The good news is there are lots of ways you can help, and since Covid-19 you may feel more connected to your neighbours and your community. Working from home, the weekly clap and online neighbour forums have led to a greater sense of community. Now is a great time to think about how the resurging Covid restrictions may affect your elderly neighbours, friends, or family. Helping with shopping, cooking an extra portion of your main meal and even a simple chat or phone call can make a real difference.

  • If you’d like to find out more about how to support an older person at risk of undernutrition please visit Ageing Well. Ageing Well is a partnership between 9 local organisations working across Brighton and Hove supporting people 50+. Telephone support is available to discuss how nutritional needs will change and what can be done to be healthy and feel good. Signposting and support to use telephone and online shopping services is available. Contact Ageing Well on 07736 041 926 or
  • To find out more about Malnutrition Awareness Week visit the website.

Some ideas for older adults who have a poor appetite or who may have lost weight recently include:

  • Choosing full fat foods, not lower fat/lower sugar foods. These contain more energy; choose full fat milk and yogurt and have butter or standard spreads instead of ‘lighter’ versions.
  • Eating little and often: Three smaller meals plus two to three nourishing snacks might be more appealing than big plates of food.
  • Adding more calories into current foods: Adding cream, butter and oil into everyday foods helps to add more energy without increasing the volume of the food.

For more ideas please take a look at our Eating Well as You Age booklet (pdf) and BAPEN (the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition).

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