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When someone's needs change

When you care for someone, over time their needs will inevitably change. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint when to act as changes can be gradual. In other cases, you may notice someone’s health decline more rapidly.

We offer guidance on what to look out for, what you can do and when to get more support.

At different stages in our lives, our nutritional needs can change. It is very common to eat less 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 prepare food, cook or even shop. 

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. 

If you do not eat enough food, or if your body cannot use what is eaten effectively due to illness or a medical condition, it is very possible to become malnourished. Certain groups of people may be at greater risk of malnutrition than others.  

*BAPEN is a Charitable Association that raises awareness of malnutrition and works to advance the nutritional care of patients and those at risk from malnutrition in the wider community. 

This would include someone who:

  • has 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 

  • has a large wound or pressure ulcer – this may mean that the body needs more nutrition to help itself heal 

  • suffers from illness or disease – this may mean that the body is more vulnerable and needs more nutrition, even if less mobile than before 

  • has problems with walking and moving around – this may prevent from shopping or being able to prepare or cook food. 

If you are worried that someone is at risk of malnutrition, there are certain signs that could indicate their need for support:

  • 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. 

  • They may be more confused and feel dizzy if they are not receiving the necessary nutrients needed to function efficiently. 

This tool can help you identify whether the support of a healthcare professional is needed.

Talking to a 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. It is also a good idea to let them know that you are their carer. 

For advice about medical nutrition, speak to your GP. 

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