I recently learned a startling fact – 1 in 10 older people in the UK are malnourished. Many people think that losing weight in later life is just another part of getting older. But in fact, becoming thinner is not in inevitable part of ageing – but a sign of malnutrition and potentially a major cause for concern.
1st – 7th October 2018 was the UK's first Malnutrition Awareness Week, and we jumped at the chance to get involved. We’ve recently developed a game to help people who work with or provide a service to older people to learn about the challenges they face accessing food. The Food In Later Life Game helps players discuss how to support older people to cook, shop and eat the foods they enjoy. It helps players think about solutions to problems older people face, like getting to the supermarket, standing up for long enough to prepare a balanced meal or finding the motivation to cook for one.
The Food in Later Life Game was developed with Angela Dickinson and Wendy Wills from the Centre for Research in Public Health and Community Care (CRIPACC) at the University of Hertfordshire. They launched the game at a local Malnutrition Awareness Week event run by Hertfordshire Independent Living Services, while we took care of a Scottish launch an Eat Well Age Well event in Glasgow.
At Sainsbury’s London Colney and the Jubilee Centre in St Albans, older people were offered a free malnutrition screening, and the chance to talk to dietitians about food and nutrition. Sainsbury’s staff, members of the public and older people themselves also got to try out the Food In Later Life Game, including local Councillor Richard Roberts who dropped by to support the efforts to raise awareness of malnutrition:
“This game asks, and answers, questions around the issue of food and older people and helps those working with older people to gain a better understanding of the issue. Ultimately this is the best way of keeping people fit and fed and the game really helps for that.”
Meanwhile in Glasgow, I went along to Eat Well Age Well’s Malnutrition Awareness Week event for older people, with activities around oral health, keeping active and a chance to play the Food In Later Life Game. Playing the Food In Later Life Game with older people turned out to be a wonderful way for staff, carers and volunteers to hear older people’s stories of problems they encounter, such as poor public transport links at supermarkets, and the struggle to cook often faced by older men when their wives pass away.
“The Food in Later Life Game is great at getting people to think about food insecurity in later life and the barriers to eating well which can increase the risk of malnutrition. It generates conversations about how things could be done differently, and this promotes change in the community.”
Dietitian, Eat Well Age Well.
We’ve all got a part to play in reducing malnutrition in older people – it’s time for the 1 in 10 to become 0 in 10. There is a group at the heart of communities who can take the lead on improving access to food for older people, and that group is supermarkets. For many older people, going to the supermarket provides social interaction and a chance to get out of the house – but we’re seeing fewer staff around stores to help shoppers, more self-checkouts and a rushed, impersonal service at the till – not appealing for older shoppers. The Food In Later Life Game can help supermarket staff improve the shopping experience for older people, by helping them recognise the issues and discuss the necessary solutions to make shopping accessible and enjoyable.
If you’re a health or social care worker, volunteer or part of a community group working with older people, there’s lots you can do to help too – our game provides lots of ideas and suggestions. If you are concerned about someone’s nutrition, check if they are having trouble with shopping, cooking or eating and see what you can do to help – it could be as simple as helping them to organise Meals On Wheels, or letting them know that the local Tesco can deliver their heavier shopping. Remember that losing weight is NOT an inevitable part of getting older - small changes can have a big impact and can help ensure older people stay nourished in later life.
For more information and to order the Food In Later Life Game, visit www.foodinlaterlifegame.co.uk