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Nutritional study underway

Frail, elderly people who are at risk of hospitalisation due to malnutrition could be handed a lifeline, thanks to a new study.

University researchers believe a combination of nutritional supplements and low dose hormone treatment delivered to under-nourished elderly people in their homes could dramatically lower hospital admissions.

Professor Ian Chapman from the University of Adelaide’s Discipline of Medicine said a pilot study showed that high protein supplements and testosterone given to elderly people helped increase their energy levels and body weight, and keep them out of hospital.

"Nutritional supplements can actually reduce mortality by up to 34 per cent in the aged population, particularly those who are severely malnourished," Chapman said.

"Low doses of testosterone also increases muscle mass and strength, energy and libido.”

The university is now seeking elderly people still living in their own homes for a more advanced study, conducted over 12 months.

Two hundred frail, aged people (over 65 years) who are clinically under-nourished will be recruited in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney for the year-long project.

"Hospital stays for this age group are up to 10 times greater than for those adults aged under 45 years in Australia. A lot of this is due to falls and disability associated with muscle loss and reduced food intake,” Chapman said.

"If we can address this problem, the costs to the community and the individual could be reduced drastically.

"In older people there is a strong relationship between hospitalisation and the later development of disabilities. If we can keep the elderly out of hospital for as long as possible, everyone wins."

Chapman said an estimated 43 per cent of elderly people living at home and receiving domiciliary care are under-nourished.

Study participants will be split into control and treatment groups and visited at home at regular intervals over a 12-month period to assess their weight, strength and energy levels.

The study has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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