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Malnutrition risk for older New Zealanders

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 26/05/2017
Elderly man. © Getty Images Elderly man.

More than a third of older New Zealanders are deemed to be at a high risk of malnutrition.

Living conditions have a clear effect in the risk, with those living independently being the most healthy, according to Massey University researchers.

Their study, published in the Australasian Journal on Ageing, assessed 167 people aged between 65 and 103 in the Waitemata District Health Board region.

It found that 23 per cent were malnourished and 35 per cent had a high high risk of malnutrition.

Those recently admitted to residential care were much more likely to be malnourished (47 per cent) than those in a hospital (23 per cent) or living in the community (2 per cent).

However, those living in the community tended to be younger, and didn't have trouble swallowing food, compared with the other groups.

The study says elimination of certain foods because of chewing and swallowing difficulties aggravates the risk of malnutrition.

Furthermore, malnutrition can contribute to dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) with the relevant muscles undergoing atrophy from reduced food intake.

"This can compromise the integrity of the swallow and initiate a vicious cycle further decreasing food intake and exacerbating poor swallow function," the authors said.

Associate Professor Carol Wham, who led the study, says the results highlight the need for mandatory screening for malnutrition risk.

She also said there should be greater awareness around malnutrition in older people.

"This issue should not be considered a 'normal' part of ageing," she said.

"It needs to be higher up the political agenda."

The research is being followed up using a larger group of 250 in each of the three settings.

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