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Identifying and treating malnutrition

07 October 2021


Malnutrition is estimated to effect approximately 35-43% of hospitalised patients in Australia and the prevalence of malnutrition across residential aged care facilities ranges between 32-72%.

Potential causes of malnutrition

  • Reduced ability to access food, social isolation, loneliness, poor eating environment, financial constraint
  • Reduced ability to prepare foods & self-feed, poor vision
  • Difficulty chewing & swallowing food, sensory changes (reduced sense of taste and/or smell)
  • Poor appetite/dysregulation of thirst, dementia
  • Depression/anxiety

Implications of malnutrition

  • Increased length of stay
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Poor immune function
  • Reduced wound healing and increased risk of pressure injuries
  • Loss of strength, functional decline and poor endurance
  • Muscle weakness and increased risk of falls and fractures
  • Prolonged hospitalisation stay
  • Increased health care costs
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Increased risk of mortality

What can YOU do? Signs to look out for…

  • Unintentional weight loss or signs of fat and/or muscle wasting
  • Reported reduced/poor appetite
  • Ordering less food or eating less of the meals
  • Swallowing problems
  • Dentures not fitting properly
  • Clothes or jewellery fitting looser
  • New medications impacting food intake or appetite

Nutrition intervention/treatment in hospital may include:

  • high protein high energy diet
  • nourishing snacks
  • oral nutrition supplements
  • meal assistance
  • assistance filling out the menu
  • enteral feeding
  • nutrition education

If you identify any of these signs in yourself or a loved one or would like further information, speak to your health care provider or seek a referral to a Dietitian.

Holly Milne
Holly Milne is a Clinical Dietitian at St John of God Mt Lawley Hospital who works with patients in the rehabilitation and surgical/medical wards. She is passionate about providing nutrition support to improve the health and wellbeing of a wide range of patients that present to the hospital.