Nurses must ensure that young patients as well as older people are screened for malnutrition risk, experts have warned, following important UK research findings.
A survey of more than 10,000 patients admitted to hospitals and care homes during three days in September showed 28% of those in their 70s were at risk of malnutrition. However, so were 27% of patients in their 20s, the British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN) research reveals.
Even in the lowest risk category, 50 to 59-year-olds, more than one-fifth were in danger of malnourishment.
‘It has been highlighted a lot in the media that it is elderly patients who are at risk of malnutrition,’ research lead Christine Russell told NT. ‘But there’s a danger that people therefore think it’s only a problem for the elderly – what our data shows is it affects people of all ages.’
‘We can’t be complacent about this,’ added Andrea Cartwright, chairperson of the National Nurses Nutrition Group. ‘You can’t just assume it’s going to be the elderly who are going to be affected, which is why screening is so important.’
Early analysis of the data also reveals the highest risk was among patients on cancer wards, with 41% of those admitted to oncology wards deemed to be at risk compared with 33% of those admitted to wards caring for older people.
While the survey revealed a relatively high proportion of hospitals and care homes had screening policies in place – 89% and 82% respectively – Ms Cartwright warned that not all were undertaking audits to make sure these policies were being carried out.
‘Just 68% of care homes and 76% of hospitals were auditing, and that figure needs to be higher. How else can organisations be certain they’re meeting necessary standards?’ she said.
Ms Russell also called on nurses in the community to be on the lookout for chronically or acutely ill patients being cared for at home who were in danger of becoming malnourished.
‘In some cases, if the problem is addressed early, it may even prevent a hospital admission,’ she said.