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Call for urgency in tackling malnutrition

Too little attention is paid to malnutrition in people living with dementia in the home, a new discussion paper has shown.

Dementia and Nutrition in the Home, released this month by Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, called on the federal government to address the issue of dementia and malnutrition urgently and fund information resources on nutrition for consumers and community-based aged-care and support workers.

Alzheimer’s Australia NSW chief executive John Watkins said every person with dementia would have difficulty with nutrition at some point. “That may be either difficulty with eating or in being able to ensure they are getting balanced, nutritious meals on a day-to-day basis. It’s a universal issue,” Watkins explained. “However, this research has found a shockingly low level of awareness and attention given to this issue, and very few appropriate resources available to help prevent malnutrition.

“Poor nutrition can lead to much worse outcomes in people with dementia who may, as a result of malnutrition, enter residential care earlier and require longer and more frequent hospital stays.”

The research found that in Australia, the prevalence of malnutrition in the community is estimated to be 10 per cent to 30 per cent, with older adults at higher risk, and rates are higher amongst older people with dementia, Watkins said.

The discussion paper was co-funded by Calvary Community Care and Anglican Retirement Villages. It was conducted with the assistance of Meals on Wheels NSW.

Cheryl De Zilwa, national director of community care at Calvary Community Care, said professionals who provide in-home support can play a key role in identifying the warning signs that a person is not eating correctly.

“Simple actions like checking what's in the fridge or pantry and discussing meals can help with early intervention strategies,” De Zilwa said. “Our support workers also assist older people with their food shopping and meal preparation. Training and education on nutrition and menu planning will be enormously beneficial and could have an immediate impact."

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