Mandatory malnutrition screening urged for elderly


IRELAND NEEDS to put in place a mandatory screening programme for malnutrition in the elderly along with a national nutrition care plan, a seminar in Dublin heard yesterday.

Unlike many other countries, Ireland has no programme for the detection of malnutrition, a serious health issue in the elderly, said Michael J Gibney, professor of food and health at UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine.

With the number of people aged over 65 in Ireland forecast to double to 24 per cent by 2050 and those over 80 expected to treble in the same period, Prof Gibney said the cost of treating malnutrition would be an even bigger economic drain than obesity.

“Obesity is associated with high blood pressure, high glucose and high cholesterol, all of which can be detected and treated by GPs with a simple pill. Patients only need to go to hospital if they have complications,” Prof Gibney said.

“If you are a malnourished older person, you are far more likely to enter hospital, have more complications, a longer stay and more readmissions,” he added.

“That’s where medicine starts to cost enormously. Our increasing elderly population will have a huge economic impact, which is why we need to ensure that as people grow older, they do so as healthily as possible.”

Prof Gibney explained that there was scientific evidence to show that simple dietary and lifestyle interventions could delay or significantly reduce the incidence of three common age-related problems: decline in cognitive function, age-related macular disorder and loss of muscle (sarcopenia).

He was speaking at a seminar entitled Towards a Vigorous Old Age – Diet and Lifestyle Challenges, which was hosted in Dublin yesterday by Danone Ireland to discuss Ireland’s ageing population and to consider the diet and lifestyle challenges to living longer and ageing well.

Thomas T MacDonald, professor of immunology and dean for research at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry in the United Kingdom, told the seminar that there was some scientific evidence that probiotics or “friendly bacteria” helped to boost the immune system in the elderly and could also help to protect against common infectious diseases, such as the winter cold.

Prof MacDonald was involved in a recent study with Danone which found that probiotics boosted immune system response in the elderly and also gave some protection against common infectious diseases.