Student dietitians address serious issue – Malnutrition: A Problem in the Elderly

Student dietitians from the University of Sydney are teaming up with the Aged Care Teams at Broken Hill Health Service to tackle nutrition issues in the elderly residents of Broken Hill.

Malnutrition is a frequent and serious problem in the elderly and research shows that up to 50% of community-dwelling elderly aged 65 and over are at risk of malnutrition. National data shows that 60% of adults in this age group are malnourished upon admission to hospital.

“As there are a considerable number of senior residents in Broken Hill (about 20% of the community), malnutrition could be affecting quite a substantial proportion of the community,” said Tracy Herlihy, Team Leader of Dietetics, Dietetics, Primary and Allied Health.

“Older adults are at high risk of low appetite, and low motivation to eat and prepare meals, especially if they’re living alone, or far away from family and friends, which is often the case for elderly adults living in more regional areas such as Broken Hill,” said Ms Herlihy.

“The student dietitians have a simple goal: to empower the older adults of Broken Hill to take control of their own nutrition and nourishment.”

The student dietitians met and spoke with elderly community members and found that the barriers to good nutrition for many older adults in Broken Hill included low appetite, unintentional weight loss, and lack of motivation to plan meals.

They subsequently created tools to break down these barriers, and equip older adults to remain nourished, healthy, and independent. These include:

  • Basic Cooking Skills – for those with little cooking experience.
  • Super Snacks pamphlet and Recipes for Protein and Energy booklet – for those who struggle with appetite. These include ideas for foods and drinks that are packed with energy and protein to make every mouthful count, as well as tips on improving your appetite.
  • One-Month Menu Plans for Light and Main Meals – for seniors who feel burdened by having to come up with what to cook each day. These plans contain recipes for a variety of nutritious dishes so you can mix and match your favourites. It would cost someone roughly $50 per week to follow the menu plans for one light meal and one main meal.
  • Nutritious Convenience Meals and Soft Nutritious Convenience Foods – for older adults who don’t have the time, energy or ability to prepare or cook meals. Included are suggestions of various frozen meals, canned foods, and other packaged foods ordered by cost and nutrition.
  • Keeping in Touch – for seniors who have some time on their hands and want to remain connected to their community through social activities and volunteering opportunities.
  • What is a Dietitian? – Information explaining what services dietitians have to offer and where to access one.

“All of these materials will be rolled out from mid-April 2016 and will be available from Broken Hill Hospital,” said Ms Herlihy.

They are all free of charge – people just have to request them from the Dietetics Department. My Aged Care staff will also play a role in distributing the materials during home visits.

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