Weight loss in later life not a normal part of ageing

A new study from The Malnutrition Task Force has found over five million (36%) people aged 60 and over in the UK think it’s perfectly normal to lose weight as you get older.

Over 12 million (75%) say they have never worried about themselves or another older person unintentionally losing weight, despite it being an early warning sign of malnutrition or another serious condition.

To mark the start of Nutrition and Hydration Week (13-17 March) the MTF is calling on older people to take unexplained weight-loss seriously as getting thinner is not a normal part of ageing.

Over half (54%) of older people questioned said they would be concerned about a friend or family member being very overweight. Yet under nutrition is a major cause and consequence of poor health for older people. One in ten people over the age of 65 are estimated to be malnourished or at risk of malnutrition and the warning signs and symptoms are often missed.

Older people who are at most risk of becoming under nourished often feel lonely or have had a change in their circumstances such as bereavement which may have affected their appetite.

Compared to well-nourished individuals, people who are undernourished are twice as likely to visit their GP, have more hospital admissions and stay in hospital longer when they are admitted. Analysis has also found that treating someone who is malnourished is two to three times more expensive than for someone who is not malnourished.

Lesley Carter, Malnutrition Task Force Lead said: “We wrongly assume that malnutrition and dehydration belongs to the past - but the reality is that poor nutrition and hydration are often not recognised by older people, families or health care professionals. The risk of becoming undernourished increases significantly as people age and it is further complicated by the incorrect assumption within society that losing weight is a normal part of the ageing process, when it fact should actually raise alarm bells.

"We all know that obesity causes serious health problems but there are also serious health consequences for older people who are at the other end of the scale and don't eat enough

"Many may ignore the warning signs, or simply not pay attention when they start to manifest. Rings may fall off, dentures could become loose, or clothes too baggy. Some people may start to find it hard to stand or carry objects, making preparing meals more difficult, or some may just show a general lack of appetite. Even the need to tighten your belt can be a clear indication that a person is not eating enough."

If you think that you or someone you know may be under a healthy weight or malnourished, here are some things you could do:

  • Look for signs of unintentional weight loss, this could be rings and watches being looser or falling off.
  • Think about how to talk to them about it and considering using the easy to use self-screening tool at http://www.malnutritionselfscreening.org
  • If you are worried, talk to your GP or Practice Nurse, tell friends and family about your concerns and find about more about eating for health in old age at www.malnutritiontaskforce.org.uk.

Notes to editors

  • TNS polled 855 people aged 60 and over during 24 – 28 February 2017. The figures are based on the older population as a whole aged 60 and above.
  • The Malnutrition Task Force was set up to tackle preventable malnutrition and they have published guides to help older people ensure that they are eating and drinking well. One version is aimed at older people and their carers, and the second is aimed at professionals in this field.
  • Nutrition and Hydration Week (13 – 17 March) aims to raise awareness about the importance of food, hydration and nutrition in both healthcare settings and everyday life. For more information, visit: https://nutritionandhydrationweek.co.uk
  • The self-screening test was developed by BAPEN http://www.malnutritionselfscreening.org/

For media enquiries relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please contact the appropriate national office: Age Scotland on 0131 668 8055, Age Cymru on 029 2043 1562 and Age NI on 028 9024 5729.

Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

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