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Many physicians and nurses overlook key signs and symptoms of malnutrition, such as recent weight loss and waning appetite, in hospitalized older adults. To explore the perceptions and awareness of malnutrition among health care professionals, Australian researchers studied 100 hospitalized older adults. In this group, 30 patients were malnourished and 61 were at risk for becoming so. Of 73 patients with recent weight loss and loss of appetite, only 7 were identified by hospital staff and referred to a dietitian.


Researchers say these findings suggest a lack of knowledge about certain risk factors for malnutrition. For example, although nurses and physicians were aware of medical indicators of malnutrition, including the appearance of the skin and serum albumin levels, they tended to consider a current weight to be a more important measure of nutritional well-being than recent weight loss. When health care providers focus only on current weight, they fail to identify many patients at risk for malnutrition, researchers say.


Health care providers may overlook nutritional needs because older patients have multiple and complex medical issues. Also, hospital menus aren't designed for those who have poor appetites and trouble feeding themselves. Combating the problem could be as easy as performing a nutritional screening at admission and referring at-risk patients to a dietitian.


Source: Adams NE, et al., Recognition by medical and nursing professionals of malnutrition and risk of malnutrition in elderly hospitalised patients, Nutrition and Dietetics, June 2008.