Improving the Dietary Habit of the Elderly in North London

Health depends on one’s dietary habits. May it be children, adults or elderly, maintaining appropriate dietary habits is very important for good health. A large percentage of older people in UK suffer from malnutrition. Not only at homes, elderly face malnutrition even in hospitals where hospital staff do not take interest and dedicate their time specifically to feed the aged. Even though the National Health Service has taken several steps in tackling this problem, still a lot needs to be done to improve the nourishment of elderly.

Improving the Dietary Habit of the Elderly in North London Improper and undisciplined diet regime of elderly in North London is a serious matter of concern. Reports and studies of the Malnutrition Advisory Group (MAG) have shown that one in seven aged over 65 suffers from malnutrition in United Kingdom. Condition of elderly is better in South than North. One in five aged over 65 is malnourished in North West. Elderly in nursing residential homes present similar figures of under-nutrition. MAG has suggested “. . .

for routine nutritional screening of malnutrition in both hospitals and the community, and it wants national standards for the detection and management of malnutrition” (“BBC News | HEALTH | One in seven elderly ‘malnourished’”, 2001). Several reasons may be behind the problem of insufficient food intake by elderly. Age factor and illness can be a major concern for lonely people aged over 65 limiting their access to food and cooking. They may not be able to cook food for themselves or even go to market and buy food. Absence of any help around may force them to eat less and face malnutrition.

Besides being a serious health problem, malnutrition costs the country billions of pounds pertaining to treatment and hospitalisation of people. Malnutrition can aggravate already existing health problems or may give rise to several severe health complications. Weakness, anaemia, fatigue, depression, anxiety and many other problems may arise from under-nutrition (“BBC News | HEALTH | One in seven elderly ‘malnourished’”, 2001). In the words of Professor Marinos Elia, chairman of the MAG: In the UK malnutrition is a major health problem and older people are particularly at risk.

Nutrition is a key factor determining older people’s quality of life and as such we believe that co-ordinated action is needed nationally and locally to make sure that barriers to nutrition are eliminated and older people’s needs are assessed and met (“BBC News | HEALTH | One in seven elderly ‘malnourished’”, 2001). According to Dr Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat Health spokesman “The government’s failure to address this issue, other than by stunts with celebrity chefs in hospital is a clear indication of their failure to address the public health of the nation.

” (“BBC News | HEALTH | One in seven elderly ‘malnourished’”, 2001). Pam Miller, chairman of the Hospital Caterers Association expressed her remarks on malnutrition and said: Poor hospital food is often cited as the cause of malnutrition amongst hospital patients. But this is not the reality and hospital catering has all too often been the fall guy for an inadequate screening system which has allowed at risk patients to slip through the net. (“BBC News | HEALTH | One in seven elderly ‘malnourished’”, 2001).

As Miller suggested “. . . effective screening, good communication between health services and close monitoring throughout a patient’s hospital stay” can help in eliminating this problem (“BBC News | HEALTH | One in seven elderly ‘malnourished’”, 2001). Several elderly patients come in hospitals for an illness and are diagnosed suffering from malnutrition. It is the responsibility of the hospital staff to tackle with this problem with as much sincerity as others. Surveys show that malnutrition exists in hospitals as well.

Hospital staff and care takers do not pay much attention to feed the elderly regularly and properly. The charity Age Concern survey brings to light a concerning fact that 9 out of 10 nurses do take time to help older patients who cannot eat themselves. Caroline Flint, UK Health Minister till 2007 admitted to this problem and pointed out to several steps that government has initiated to tackle this serious subject. According to Flint the National Health Service has done the following: • Increased the strength of nurses in hospitals.

• Prioritised meal times. • “Red tray” policies. People aged above 80 risk malnutrition five times more than those under 50 (Weaver, 2006). The table 1 below shows the statistics termed as “shocking” by many people concerned with health of elderly in UK. Various steps can be taken to improve the health of elderly in North London which is the worst hit area: • Age concern’s seven steps to end malnutrition in hospitals can be very helpful when followed properly. Main points mentioned are: 1.

Hospital staff must listen to older people, their relatives and carers and act on what they say. 2. All ward staff must become ‘food aware’. 3. Hospital staff must follow their own professional codes and guidance from other bodies. 4. Older people must be assessed for the signs or danger of malnourishment on admission and at regular intervals during their stay. 5. Introduce ‘protected mealtimes’. 6. Implement a ‘red tray’ system and ensure that it works in practice. 7. Use volunteers where appropriate (“Hungry to be Heard”, 2006).

• Increase the strength of nurses in hospitals: Most shameful of all is that even hospitals, a place where needy older patients can expect some care and attention with their food and nutrition, do not take proper care of their patients’ meals. Nurses do not either have time or interest and inclination to feed the needy at regular intervals. Strength of nurses should increase in hospitals so that lonely elderly lacking regular food at homes can at least be taken care of at hospitals where they spend exorbitant amount of money for their treatment.

Even though hospitals do not lack in responsibilities in treating patients with their diseases but when a patient has been diagnosed and his state of malnutrition has been detected then it becomes the duty of the hospital to help them get rid of this problem as well. • Prioritised meal times: Prioritised meal times in hospitals and at homes will ensure that patients or people pay special attention to the food only at the time specified for the same. A prioritised meal time means no other work comes first to meals and that time frame is specifically meant for the same.

Nurses can pay special attention to their patients’ eating and nutrition at those times. This will ensure proper and timely care and attention to the elderly. Discipline and strict regime will build up this way that will add to the health of elderly and alleviate them of several other problems associated with malnutrition. • Time- Elderly need time for everything. Half of the appetite for food is lost in eating hurriedly. Patients should be given their time to eat at their own relaxed pace so that they do not feel any stress and pressure to finish their food.

This will also ensure more food intake by older people and in a peaceful manner. • Favourite food items: Favourite food items served increase the appetite and people crave to eat more. Similar is the case with older people, given the food they like will make them eat more and help tackle their malnutrition. Nutritious food cooked in the way they like will definitely improve their physical as well as mental health. • Collective food gatherings: Food is more tempting when eaten in a group. Aged people eating together in a group will unquestionably eat more than they would while eating alone.

It leads to an increased interaction and social contact which eradicates feelings of loneliness, lost appetite, lost desires, depression and anxiety. A happy mind and soul add to the nutrition and digestion process of food. • Role of youngsters- Youngsters must also intermingle with elderly and make them feel wanted. This gesture will not only make them happy but give them a new life and desire to live. Food looks tastier when we actually want to have it to add to our health. • Listening- Listening to older people and getting an idea of what they want is also important.

This will help care takers know their exact needs and help them serve their patients in a better way. Answers to questions like What are patients’ eating habits, what do they like to eat, hw do they like to eat and when do they like to eat and many more like that are vital for the hospital staff to know to encourage their patients eat well and stay nourished. • Aid in eating food: Nurses and other volunteers must make sure that they help elderly in eating their food right and finish it. Serving nutritious food alone will not help.

Help is needed while eating food as well. Older patients may be suffering from any severe and acute diseases and may not be able to eat well on their own, so such patients need extra care and attention from the hospital. • Family- One of the major problems elderly face is loneliness. Family members can play a major role in improving this condition. Staying and eating together makes a happy and healthy family. If it is not possible to stay together families can at least meet their grandmothers and grandfathers once in a while and make them feel worth.

Family gathering on dinner table and picnics occasionally will definitely boost the health and eating habits of the elderly. • Personal help- Many aged people suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s, depression and other ill health conditions that make them unable to go eat food themselves or even cook their own food. They may not be able to go to market and buy for themselves. Such people can employ personal help to take care of them. Presence of somebody to assist elderly can be of great advantage and make a huge difference to their lives.

• Voluntary organisations: Young people can form voluntary organisations to help older people. Such groups or individuals can visit aged at their homes whenever they have free time and can add a new cheer to their life. They can cook food for them. Such organizations can also help elderly who cannot buy their foodstuff from market. Organisations can stock eatable in their homes for some days so that they can feel relaxed and eat well. • Communication gap: It is very important to fill up the communication gap among the aged people and the younger generations so that each one can understand each others’ needs.

Reducing this gap will make youngsters in the family or house understand the specific and conventional needs of elderly who were raised in some other system that is present today. Older people in the house may find it difficult to adjust to modern and new cuisines and new eating ways. They may not be able to express their true feelings and requirements. This hesitation may lead to less food intake and hence malnutrition. • Financial Aid: Elderly usually have low incomes and no one to take care of them. Government must play significant role in improving their conditions.

Financial aid by government and other voluntary organisations may help elderly take proper care of their diet and nutrition. They can also afford personal help with this aid which will further increase their living conditions and health in turn. (“Hungry to be Heard”, 2006; Weaver, 2006; “BBC News | HEALTH | One in seven elderly ‘malnourished’”, 2001). Conclusion Everybody needs attention, love and care. This requirement is more pronounced when someone is lonely that is in old age. Elderly living alone may face several troubles in eating food and taking care of their diet regime.

The condition in North London is worst of all. Every one in seven aged over 65 is malnourished in UK. Several steps can be taken to improve the dietary habits of the elderly that may include seven steps specified by the Age Concern. Other initiatives like increased strength of hospital staff, financial aid from government, voluntary organisations, family care, personal assistant, communicating, listening, social interaction, helping in buying and cooking food, aid in serving and eating preferred food may help in improving the dietary habits of elderly.


“BBC News | HEALTH | One in seven elderly ‘malnourished’” (2001). Retrieved from news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/health/1693298. stm “House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 29 Oct 2007 (pt 0093)” (2007). Retrieved from http://www. parliament. the-stationery-office. co. uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm071029/text/71029w0093. htm “Hungry to be Heard” (2006). Retrieved from www. bbc. co. uk/radio4/today/pdf/hungry_to_be_heard_august_2006. pdf Weaver, M. (2006). “Government admits to malnutrition in hospitals | Society | guardian. co. uk” Retrieved from www. guardian. co. uk/society/2006/aug/29/health. medicineandhealth

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