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Oct 01 2014
New Study Finds 60% of Seniors Admitted to the Emergency Department Either Malnourished or At Risk of Malnutrition

Adding to the mounting evidence substantiating the high prevalence of malnutrition in older adults, a new study published in the September issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine finds that 60 percent of older adults admitted to the emergency department at UNC Health Care were either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.

Additionally, this study finds that more than two-thirds of those individuals denied previously receiving a diagnosis of malnutrition. The issue of under-diagnosis of malnutrition has recently received attention due to a study in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, which found that only 3.2% of all U.S. hospital patients were coded with a diagnosis of malnutrition.

Researchers at UNC School of Medicine found that the rate of malnutrition was not substantially different for women versus men, across levels of educational attainment, or for those aged 65 to 74 years versus 75 years and older.

The study identified the following characteristics as indicators for high prevalence of malnutrition:

  • Difficulty buying groceries sometimes or often in the past year;
  • Symptoms of depression; and
  • Difficulty eating.

Co-Author Timothy Platts-Mills, MD, MSc states: "Our findings suggest that identifying malnutrition among older emergency department patients and connecting these patients with a food program or other services may be an inexpensive way to help these patients."

While this study was very small in nature, focusing solely on a single emergency department, its findings do encourage further study regarding the factors that lead to malnutrition in older adults and the best ways to ensure that vulnerable patients are receiving proper nutrition.

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