Debbie Chen is an accredited practising Dietitian with VMCH. Here, she shares her insights on the importance of nutrition during Malnutrition Week 2020.
Malnutrition is known as ‘the hidden condition’. Eating a nutritionally adequate diet is vitally important for your overall health and wellbeing. In my time working as a dietitian for VMCH over the past three years, I’ve seen many clients who are overweight but they do not realise they are malnourished.
Malnutrition is not just how you appear on the outside. You can be eating high sugar and high fat foods that maintain your weight but you are actually eating poorly. For example, not eating adequate protein to maintain healthy muscle mass. We know there could be up to 29 per cent of our aged community who have a loss of muscle mass and function and up to 30 to 50 per cent of patients admitted to hospital are also malnourished.
If it isn’t picked up, malnutrition can be very dangerous. It can lead to higher infection risks, increased falls, loss of strength, reduced quality of life and shorter life expectancy. Here at VMCH we support some very vulnerable people who are at higher risk of developing malnutrition; older people with dementia, those with an inability to shop, cook or feed themselves, or people with disability who have chewing or swallowing problems. So it’s up to us as health professionals to take notice of any warning signs of malnutrition and take action. It’s important to weigh all your clients and residents at least once a month.
For those who are seeing clients regularly or for their initial assessment, ask them these screening questions:
Have you lost weight in the last six months without trying?
Has your appetite decreased?
Have you had nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea?
If the answer is ‘yes’, the person could be malnourished.
Families, friends and loved ones can play a part too. Take notice if someone’s dentures are becoming loose, if they are eating less than usual, if they’re not enjoying their favourite foods anymore, their jewellery is getting loose or if they’ve tightened their belt a few notches… these are all signs.
If you think something isn’t right, please refer to a Dietitian for a nutritional assessment. They can help make changes to the person’s diet by assessing their health conditions, working with the person, family/carers to set realistic goals and practical strategies to increase their protein and energy intake and improve their nutritional status. Dietitians work as part of a multidisciplinary team and will refer on to other allied health professionals to ensure that the person attains optimum health.