New research reveals high rates of malnutrition in people living with dementia in long-term care

New research reveals high rates of malnutrition in people living with dementia in long-term care

One in four people living with dementia in long-term care facilities suffer malnutrition, many more at risk

University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers have found one-in-four people living with dementia in long term care facilities suffer from malnutrition.

It is the first systematic review of malnutrition rates among those with dementia living in long term care worldwide. The researchers also found 50 percent of people living with dementia in long-term care facilities are at risk of becoming malnourished.

Dietitian Associate Professor Kelly Lambert from the School of Medical, Indigenous and Health Sciences said the numbers are alarming, but not surprising.

“Dementia alters eating behaviours, hunger and thirst cues, swallow function, ability to self-feed, and recognition and interest in food,” Associate Professor Lambert said.

“Food intake can be significantly altered due to the complex nature of dementia, so it’s not surprising to see high rates of malnutrition.

Researchers from UOW reviewed studies of malnutrition rates in long-term care facilities across Europe and South Asia, however Australia is not included due to a lack of data.

“Our study highlights the need for more investment and research into malnutrition in long-term care facilities in Australia,” Associate Professor Lambert said.

“We know these issues are not exclusive to long-term care facilities overseas and malnutrition is affecting people with dementia in long-term care facilities on our very doorstep.”

Professor Karen Walton and Associate Professor Kelly Lambert

Associate Professor Lambert has previously worked in hospitals and for 25 years as a dietitian and has seen first-hand the impact poor nutrition has on people living with dementia.

“Dementia steals food from your loved one slowly and insidiously,” Associate Professor Lambert said.

“It can be heartbreaking for families caring for loved ones with dementia to watch them lose the ability to eat and not enjoy the pleasure food can bring to a person’s life.

“This new research enables us to really quantify how much of a problem there may be with malnutrition in people with dementia living in aged-care facilities in Australia. We need to strengthen the type of nutrition support these residents are receiving as well as the nutritional quality of meals provided.”

In May the federal government committed $12.9 million towards better nutrition in aged care. Associate Professor Lambert said the announcement should be applauded given the severe impact that dementia can have on eating, nutrition and health.

“Dementia is rapidly increasing in prevalence and is expected to double by 2050,” Associate Professor Lambert said.

“The current working population needs to think carefully about how we support and fund care for the increasing number of people with dementia going forward.”

UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research and Sustainable Futures) Professor David Currow said this research highlights the challenges our ageing population faces.

“Associate Professor Kelly Lambert and her colleagues have undertaken important research that reveals the real issues people living with dementia and their families face every day,” Professor Currow said.

“I congratulate the researchers on their commitment and dedication to improving the lives of those living with dementia in long-term care facilities and the wider community.

“This research is not only important but also highlights the University’s commitment to creating happy and healthy communities for people of all ages.”

UOW is committed to addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which provide a shared blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for everyone. The Centre for Chronic and Complex Care project addresses Sustainable Development Goal 3, Good Health and Wellbeing, which ensures healthy lives and promotes wellbeing for all ages.

About the research

‘Prevalence of malnutrition in people with dementia in long term care: a systematic review and meta-analysis’ by Emma Perry, Karen Walton and Kelly Lambert is published in Nutrients.

This research received no external funding.