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Feature Article

Helping your older patients to keep eating

Sally James

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Abstract

Weight loss is often overlooked in older patients until it is too late. Being aware of the early signs and offering practical advice can help you maintain the health of your older patients.

Key Points

  • Weigh older patients regularly. Any weight loss over 5% should be investigated.
  • Use a nonconfrontational approach to understand why patients find it hard to keep eating. Ask about appetite, not intake. The factors contributing to weight loss in older patients should be identified before starting treatment.
  • Review medication. If significant weight loss has occurred, the dosages of all medications need to be reviewed.
  • Encourage small, regular, energy dense meals and snacks. For the frail aged patient, increasing overall energy intake is more important than reducing salt and saturated fat.
  • Suggest familiar foods before commercial supplements. High protein liquid supplements have a place; however, they are expensive and need to be used in adequate amounts to be effective. Remember that vitamin supplementation alone will not improve nutritional status.
  • Consider referral to a dietitian with experience in aged care.

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