Nutrition and the community-dwelling older person: a pilot study in general practice

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Abstract

Introduction:

Nutrition is vital for health, and undernutrition can compromise physical and mental wellbeing. The prevalence of undernutrition among older community-dwelling adults attending general practice in Australia is not readily known.

Objectives:

The aims of the study were to determine the prevalence of malnutrition of the elderly in Australian general practice, to assess malnutrition-related factors and to describe the older people's perception about nutrition.

Design:

The study sample comprised 60 older people aged 75 years and above attending one general practice in South Australia.

Methodology:

The combination of qualitative and quantitative data provided a more complete account of nutrition and its meaning for the older person.

Results:

Three commonly used, validated nutritional screening tools were useful in determining undernutrition between 15 and 20% in a community population. One screening tool determined a 62% incidence of nutritional risk. Health characteristics determined almost 75% of participants identified at oral health risk. Frailty, medications and chronic disease were identified as factors associated with nutritional risk. Examination of older persons’ perceptions about nutrition and wellbeing identified two major themes: older people have nutritional awareness but lack details, especially in relation to the benefits of protein intake, and there is limited awareness on the health benefits of good nutrition.

Conclusion:

This study confirms that nutritional risk is common in general practice. Understanding older person's perceptions of good nutrition is vital to be able to effectively change their nutritional status and plan amenable interventions. Screening practices with valid and reliable screening tools are imperative to ensure appropriate identification and management of older people at risk.

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