Many Elderly ER Visitors Are Malnourished

In a new study, researchers found that more than half of elderly patients in a hospital emergency room were either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.

Additionally, more than half of the patients who were malnourished hadn’t been diagnosed with the condition.

Researchers focused on patients 138 65 and older who were seen at the University of North Carolina hospitals over an eight-week period. The patients were not cognitively impaired or critically ill. None of them lived in a nursing home or skilled nursing facility.

“Malnutrition is known to be a common problem among older adults. What is surprising in our study is that most of the malnourished patients had never been told that they were malnourished,” said Timothy F. Platts-Mills, MD, MSc, assistant professor of emergency medicine in the UNC School of Medicine and senior author of the study.

The study was published online in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

“Our findings suggest that identifying malnutrition among older emergency department patients and connecting these patients with a food program or other services may be an inexpensive way to help these patients,” Platts-Mills said. “Older adults make more than 20 million visits to U.S. emergency departments each year. Our results add to a growing body of evidence that more needs to be done to develop the capacity of emergency departments to address the underlying conditions that impact health for older adults, particularly for those with limited resources.”

The patients’ nutritional status was analyzed using the Mini Nutritional Assessment Short-Form (MNA-SF), a 6-item tool that combines a measurement of body mass index and the patient’s answers to questions about weight loss, decline in food intake, recent stress or disease, mobility and neuropsychological disorders.

Of the patients, 16 percent were found to be malnourished; 77 percent in that group said they hadn’t previously been diagnosed as malnourished. Sixty percent of the entire group were found to be either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition.

Malnutrition was higher among people who had depressive symptoms, difficulty eating because of dental pain or difficulty buying groceries because of factors such as lack of transportation or money.

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