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Signs of a problem

At different stages in our lives our nutritional needs can change. It is very common to take in less food when living with a medical condition, recovering from an illness or operation, or simply as a result of getting older.

This might be because of a reduced appetite, a lack of energy to shop, prepare or even cook food.

BAPEN has designed a simple self-assessment tool for you to check whether the person you care for is at risk of being underweight and malnourished.

Reasons for being unable to eat

Reasons for not being able to eat include:

  • taste changes due to medical treatment, certain medications or illness
  • problems with teeth or dentures
  • feeling lonely, anxious or depressed
  • feeling sick, feeling full very quickly or having altered bowel habits
  • being in pain
  • simply feeling under the weather

Anyone can become undernourished if they do not eat enough food, or if their body cannot use what is eaten effectively due to illness or a medical condition. Certain groups of people may be at greater risk of undernutrition than others.

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Greater risk of undernutrition

People at greater risk of malnutrition include those who

  • Lack of, or a poor appetite over a prolonged period - this can be due to pain, the side effects of treatment, feeling full too quickly, or just not feeling like eating.
  • Have a large wound or pressure ulcer - this may mean that the body needs more nutrition to help itself heal.
  • Suffer from illness or disease - this may mean that the body is more vulnerable and needs more nutrition, even if less mobile than before.
  • Have problems with walking and moving around - this may stop someone from shopping or being able to prepare or cook food.
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Effects of undernutrition

  • Reduced energy and strength – having fewer calories (energy), and taking in less protein than needed can cause tiredness, which can affect everyday activities. Muscle tone and physical strength can decrease.
  • Unplanned weight loss – you may notice that the person you care for has loose rings, or they have dropped a dress or collar size. This is due to taking in less calories than the body needs.
  • Weaker immune system – as the gut makes up a part of the immune system, a poor nutritional intake may lead to a weaker immune system.
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Talking to your GP

Your GP is the first port of call if you're worried and would like to discuss the dietary intake of the person you care for. We've put together some simple steps you can take to make sure you get the best from visiting your GP – download the chart below.

Talking to your GP
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How you can help

Carer and son

With your help we can reach more carers with timely support and advice.

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