Focus on elders suffering from malnutrition, Welsh Consumer Council has stressed.
It is estimated that one in 10 people over 65 are malnourished. But the problem is not confined to this group in society - people with chronic diseases, those living in poverty or socially isolated and people who have recently been discharged from hospital are also at risk.
AdvertisementFigures from the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition suggests that more than one in four of all people admitted to hospital and care homes are at risk of malnutrition.
Vivienne Sugar, chair of the Welsh Consumer Council, said: "The idea that some of the most vulnerable people in our 'richer', modern society are suffering from malnutrition is still something of a taboo subject.
"There are many reasons why someone may become vulnerable to malnutrition, which means that identifying it can be very difficult - an estimated 70% of cases still go unrecognised.
"The knock-on effect on healthcare services should not be underestimated with malnourished patients likely to endure longer hospital stays, be more prone to infections and visit their GP more frequently, costing the NHS around £7.3bn a year across the UK.
"And with people over 65 particularly vulnerable to being malnourished, the effect of undiagnosed malnutrition on older people's health could be significant.
Ms Sugar added: "Raising awareness of the tell-tale signs of malnutrition would be a vital part of any national strategy - and not only for professionals like health and social care workers.
"Family members, friends and neighbours - those who do the majority of caring for older people also need to be able to spot if someone they care for or care about may not be eating properly.
"While making sure that family and friends have the right information at their fingertips is important, health, social and other workers also need ways of screening for malnutrition amongst their elderly clients.
"We are starting to see a very welcome step change in government policy across the UK in relation to tackling poor nutrition in hospitals and care homes but as yet we have seen much less emphasis on work at the community level.
"While some good work is being done in parts of Wales, unless a national strategy to tackle malnutrition amongst older people is established, the health and well being of older people in Wales is in danger of being sidelined, forgotten and compromised."
Rosalyn Williams, health initiatives co-ordinator for Age Concern Cymru, said: "Preventing the occurrence of malnutrition should be our main aim and it is hard to see how this will happen with closure of many meals on wheels services, limitations in care provision and the demands of busy family lives limiting contact with older relatives. Older people need more opportunities for social interaction, better provision of care and easy affordable access to good food."
The signs of malnutrition
THE Welsh Consumer Council's report, Tackling Malnutrition Among Older People in the Community, lists some of the tell-tale signs of malnutrition. It believes that these should act as warning signals. They include:
Low energy levels;
Being prone to falls;
Loose-fitting clothes or jewellery;
Difficulties recovering from illness;
A shortage of food around the house or in cupboards.
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