Undernutrition: Who cares? Perspectives of dietitians and older adults on undernutrition

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Background: Many older adults are at risk of undernutrition. Dietitians play a key role in the management and treatment of undernutrition, but older adults have difficulties to comply with dietetic recommendations. This qualitative study investigated which barriers older adults experience in adhering to treatment for undernutrition. Current dietetic practices and older adults' experiences were studied, and the potential to use protein-enriched regular products in undernutrition treatment was investigated. Methods: We interviewed 18 older adults who were under treatment for undernutrition, and 13 dietitians. Semi-structured interview guides were used, and all interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. The interviews were coded with qualitative analysis software NVivo9, followed by content analysis to formulate main themes. Results: The interviews resulted in seven themes, which related to three main topics: barriers for treating undernutrition in older adults, current dietetic treatment, and new strategies to complement current treatment. Low awareness and a lack of knowledge regarding undernutrition, physical limitations, and loss of appetite were found to be major barriers for treating undernutrition in older adults. Dietitians said to focus mostly on increasing energy and protein intake by recommending the use of regular food products that fit the needs and habits of the patient, before prescribing oral nutritional supplements. Dietitians considered enriched regular products to be useful if they fit with the habits of older adults, the portion sizes were kept small, if products were easy to open and prepare, had good palatability, and were offered in a variety of taste and textures. Conclusions: Results from the interviews suggest that undernutrition awareness is low among older adults and they lack knowledge on how to manage undernutrition despite efforts taken by dietitians. Enriched regular products could enable older adults to better adhere to undernutrition treatment, provided that these products meet the needs and eating habits of older adults. If protein-enriched food products can replace regular, low-protein variants, older adults do not need to consume more, but can adhere to their usual pattern while consuming more protein.




Beelen, J., Vasse, E., Ziylan, C., Janssen, N., De Roos, N. M., & De Groot, L. C. P. G. M. (2017). Undernutrition: Who cares? Perspectives of dietitians and older adults on undernutrition. BMC Nutrition, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40795-017-0144-4

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