Free helpline launched to help tackle malnutrition in Edinburgh's elderly

A freephone advice line started in the capital to help tackle malnutrition among older people is being rolled out across Scotland.

Monday, 17th May 2021, 4:55 am

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The Malnutrition Advice Line connects older people or anyone concerned about them to dietitians and nutritionists who can answer queries about reduced appetite, weight loss and nutritional health.

It was set up after a team in Edinburgh and Lothians successfully trialled the service late last year.

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The charity says up to 30 per cent of older people at risk of malnutrition

Set up by award-winning charity Food Train, the project is part of a raft of measures to help promote awareness of malnutrition among older people.

Experts said that tell-tale signs of malnutrition can include a loss of appetite, unplanned weight loss, difficulties eating and drinking and a lost motivation to cook.

Dietitian Jen Grant took calls on the advice line as part of the pilot project, speaking to older people and family members.

She said: “We gave food-first advice, including tailored pointers around how to increase their intake through more nourishing meals and snacks, tips around simple food swaps and food fortification.

Jen Grant, Food Train Eat Well Age Well project

“We also gave advice around managing mealtimes and strategies they could use to make eating easier or more enjoyable, while also signposting local services which can provide further help.”

Malnutrition is largely preventable and treatable but the charity claims the problem has been largely ignored.

According to latest figures from hospitals, 1 in 10 older people in Scotland today are at risk of, or living with malnutrition.

Food Train says their own data, which includes community settings, suggests as many 30 per cent of older people are at risk.

But through their work with hundreds of health & social care staff they found lack of awareness that malnutrition is a significant health problem in the older population.

Laura Cairns, Food Train’s Eat Well Age Well Project Manager, said: “Worrying numbers of older people across Scotland suffer from - or are at risk of suffering from - malnutrition.

“We need everyone to start simple conversations with friends and loved ones about food, cooking and their appetite. These conversations are key to discovering the problems people are experiencing and what steps can be taken to ensure there are no further problems with eating. Our advice line allows exactly that.

“Any over-65s with concerns about their own nutritional health - or a friend, relative or carer worried that someone is not eating and drinking enough or experiencing barriers or challenges around food - should get in-touch.”

Food Train, which operates a home shopping service in West Lothian, has called for health and social care to intervene earlier to prevent malnutrition among older people.

The calls followed research by the charity’s Eat Well Age Well project in partnership with the University of Glasgow.

Proposals also include a requirement for all agencies working with older people to carry out community screening for early signs of malnutrition and to recognise that poor mental health also places the older adult at risk of malnutrition and food insecurity.

The Malnutrition Advice line (0800 13 88 220) is open from 9am until 4pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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