There is a well-established myth that it is normal to lose weight in later life or that you don’t need to eat as much as you age.
None of us doubts the importance of food and drink. They give us the nutrients to stay healthy in body and mind, boost our energy and improve our quality of life. However, unfortunately, at least 1 in 10 people aged 65 or above (over 60,000 Greater Manchester residents) suffer from malnutrition and dehydration.
The reasons for this may be hard to spot. For example loneliness or the loss of a life partner who you used to eat with or who cooked for you can make you lose interest in food and drink. It might seem easier to just have a biscuit instead of cooking a hot meal and to restrict drink intake to reduce the number of toilet trips, which can easily become a habit.
This can greatly affect a person’s wellbeing and lead to long term health problems for otherwise healthy, independent older people.
The good news is that in many cases this is preventable and treatable.
We have now trained a wide range of front-line staff and volunteers to talk to older people about their diet, appetite and weight loss and to use the Paperweight Armband, a simple strip of paper designed in Salford which can be used to instantly check if someone is at risk of malnutrition. After initial trials the programme is now being rolled out to five areas in Greater Manchester – Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Stockport.
We have also launched an e-learning tool about malnutrition and swallowing difficulties. This can be used by carers and members of the public who would benefit from learning more about the issues and the role they can play to support someone who may be at risk.
So far, the programme has achieved:
• almost 3,000 people have been reached through awareness raising
• more than 600 people have been trained to use the signposting questions and the Paperweight Armband, with a potential reach of 29,156 older people per year
• signposting questions and/or Paperweight Armband have been used with 1626 people
• 111 people have been identified to be at risk of malnutrition
Over the next 12 months we will continue to recruit ‘nutrition and hydration champions’ to use the Paperweight Armband and questions about weight loss in their daily conversations with older people.
We are following up with people at risk to evaluate the impact of these conversations and the advice given to improve food and drink intake.
We are promoting the e-learning tool in particular within care home settings to improve the knowledge and understanding of malnutrition, dehydration and swallowing difficulties and improve practice around care provision for these basic needs.
Ultimately we aim to reach 40,000 people across Greater Manchester to discover cases of malnutrition which might otherwise go undetected, and respond before the most serious impacts take hold.
Working with the Partnership, we will be raising awareness of the issues in nutrition and hydration awareness week from 10th-17th March and later in the year at malnutrition awareness week in October.
We will also be hosting a nutrition and hydration conference in September. Follow @GMNandH on Twitter to get updates and find out how you can sign up.
Dave Haynes is the chief executive for Age UK in Salford. Age UK Salford has been commissioned by the Partnership to lead an innovative approach to tackling malnutrition, first developed in Salford, across five additional boroughs of Greater Manchester.
The Greater Manchester Population Health Plan was published in January 2017, setting out how we intended to make the most of the opportunities presented by devolution to transform the health, wealth and wellbeing of Greater Manchester’s 2.8 million residents.