Up to 40,000 older people across Greater Manchester are set to benefit from an ingeniously simple new way of detecting malnutrition in the over 65s. The ‘paperweight armband’, first conceived in Salford three years ago, can instantly detect potentially dangerous signs of malnutrition particularly in older people.

By wrapping the small strip of paper around a person’s arm, a wide range of community figures such as carers, housing providers, pharmacists, fire service staff and local volunteers can quickly and easily detect malnutrition.

Now the innovation is set to be rolled out across Greater Manchester and could potentially save thousands of local residents from serious health problems in later life.

Malnutrition can result in weight loss and low body weight, decreased energy levels, reduced mobility, increased likelihood of falls and ill-health, and a worsening of the ability to recover from illnesses.

Although these consequences are often dismissed as a natural part of the ageing process, they are having significant impacts on many local people’s health and wellbeing, and on Greater Manchester’s public services:

  • Over 60,000 people in Greater Manchester are thought to be affected by malnutrition
  • It costs Greater Manchester’s health and care services over £1.1bn every year, and almost £20bn nationally
  • The costs of malnutrition to the NHS are twice those of obesity
  • The exact figures could be even higher as malnutrition often goes unnoticed and untreated

Once malnutrition is identified, small changes to an individual’s diet can help them gain weight before more serious potential consequences take hold.

Malnutrition is also linked strongly to loneliness – described recently by Prime Minister Theresa May as “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time”. Almost a fifth of over-75s go three months or longer without having someone to dine with, and one in 10 of those admit they have less of an appetite as a result.

In Salford, activities have included the chance to join a ‘lunch and learn’ group organised by local charity Inspiring Communities Together. Once a month, over 65s come together to enjoy a meal alongside children from a local nursery while learning about eating and drinking well in later life from a hospital dietitian in a social environment.

In the three years since the ‘paperweight armband’ was introduced in Salford, it has resulted in a 50% increase in cases of malnutrition identified and a reduction of £300,000 spent on nutrition supplements by GPs.

Following these successes, we’re funding its introduction across more of Greater Manchester. It is being rolled-out initially in five areas (Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Stockport) where particularly high numbers of people are thought to be affected.

And the reputation of the approach is spreading beyond its Greater Manchester birthplace too, with the initiative also now being introduced in Scotland.

Sarah Price, our executive lead for population health and commissioning, said: “Weight loss and frailty are too often dismissed as a natural part of aging. But for many of our residents, and our health and care services, the impacts can be serious. By investing to make the innovative ‘paperweight armband’ more widely available, we’re empowering people and communities to better recognise and respond to malnutrition and helping thousands of older people stay healthy and independent in their communities”.

Kirstine Farrer, consultant dietitian at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, helped develop the paperweight armband and its accompanying programme of support. She said: “I am delighted to see my very simple idea come to fruition and help raise awareness about preventable malnutrition in frail older adults. This has given us traction to engage public health colleagues in this important work and also showcase an example of dietitians working in partnership with public health, local commissioners and Age UK Salford. We need to enable carers and older adults to address this in the community and we are passionate about ensuring PaperWeight Armband is the vehicle to open the conversation in the community. We are confident this programme will succeed.”

Dave Haynes, chief executive of Age UK Salford which managed the introduction of the paperweight armband in the city and is now taking forward its wider roll-out, said: “Needless suffering, neglect and inconsistent standards of dignity are unacceptable and we urge you to champion good nutrition locally. Anyone can do this by simply looking out for the signs of malnutrition, including poor appetite, unintentional weight loss and thin arms or legs. If you notice these signs contact your local Age UK or visit the Age UK Salford website and look at the tips in the Are You Eating Enough? booklet.”

The roll-out of the paperweight armband is just one measure being introduced through the new £575,000 Nutrition and Hydration programme launched by us. It is being accompanied by additional actions to raise awareness of the signs and impacts of malnutrition, improve training and standards of care and offer more personalised treatment and support.

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