Who is at risk of malnutrition?

  • Older people over the age of 65, particularly if they are living in a care home or nursing home or have been admitted to hospital
  • People with long-term conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, chronic lung disease
  • People with chronic progressive conditions – for example, dementia or cancer
  • People who abuse drugs or alcohol

There are also social factors that can increase the risk of malnutrition including:

  • Poverty
  • Social isolation
  • Cultural norms – for example, hospitals and care homes may not always provide food that meets particular religious or cultural needs and so increase the risk of malnutrition whilst a person is away from their normal environment

Physical factors can also increase the risk of malnutrition. For example:

  • Eating may be difficult because of a painful mouth or teeth
  • Swallowing may be more difficult (a stroke can affect swallowing) or painful
  • Losing your sense of smell or taste may affect your appetite
  • Being unable to cook for yourself may result in reduced food intake
  • Limited mobility or lack of transport may make it difficult to get food

It is also important to realise that if an older person is less able to feed themselves and becomes malnourished, this will make them more susceptible to disease, which in turn will make their nutritional state worse and impair recovery. Professor Mike Stroud, a previous Chair of BAPEN coined the term “Malnutrition Carousel” which describes this downward vicious spiral.

The Malnutrition Carousel

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