- Up to 8 out of 10 unpaid carers worry about some aspect of diet and nutrition for the person they provide support to.
- Unpaid carers of people who are underweight worry most.
- Carers UK and Danone UK & Ireland are working together to raise awareness of under-nutrition and help unpaid carers get access to the right information and support so they can provide good care for their loved ones.
The right diet and nutrition are essential to staying well - and for those living with an illness or condition, getting the right nutrition can prevent it worsening or improve their recovery.
Carers UK, the national charity for unpaid carers, is releasing research which uncovers a lack of confidence in how to address malnutrition and under-nutrition amongst unpaid carers looking after loved ones who are older, disabled or seriously ill. Nutrition is something many carers feel ill-equipped to deal with, especially if they don’t live with the person they care for.
The research found that 8 out of 10 unpaid carers caring for someone underweight (79%) worry that the condition of the person they care for affects their diet and nutrition, while 7 out of 10 (72%) worry about their hydration. Despite these concerns, many carers don’t know how to identify potential problems or where to go for help.
Unpaid carers can access support with nutrition and hydration for the people they care for through: trusted expert professionals, local organisations, community leaders and everyday support through trusted tech and quality web-based resources.
However, more needs to be done to raise awareness of malnutrition and what to look out for, as well as the key sources of information and advice and support. Some of the warning signs associated with malnutrition and dehydration to look out for include: unintentional weight loss, light headedness, thirst, confusion, fatigue and nausea.
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK said:
“Unpaid carers contend with many issues daily. Caring for a loved one, though rewarding can often also be stressful, at times scary and very lonely. Worrying about whether the person you care for is getting enough nutrition and hydration can add extra pressure to unpaid carers’ lives when they least need it.
“We need a step change in the level of awareness, identification and treatment of under-nutrition in the community.
“We have been working with Danone UK & Ireland’s Nutricia business to help unpaid carers raise awareness of this issue and find the right information and support so that they are not constantly worrying about malnutrition and dehydration. It is vital that carers know what signs to look out for and where they can go to for support and advice when they're worried. Being informed could help reduce some of the stress and anxiety around malnutrition but even more importantly, help the person receiving support become stronger and feel better.”
Victoria Blewett, Medical Affairs Director at Danone UK & Ireland said:
“Danone has made it our mission to bring health through nutrition to as many people as possible. This is especially important for those who can’t get the nutrition they need through food alone.
“We must all work together to help detect the signs of malnutrition or dehydration, but carers, in particular, have an essential role to play.
“What we want to see is an increased awareness and better education on tools such as the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (‘MUST’) and guidelines on preventing, diagnosing and managing malnutrition to be implemented more consistently across all care settings. We also call for a standardised nutritional screening process and integrated management pathway in primary and secondary care and the community. However, with policies and implementation in these areas unfortunately still very patchy, it does often fall to unpaid carers to be the first detect a problem with nutrition or hydration.
“At Danone UK & Ireland we are committed to helping raise awareness about the importance of medical nutrition on health outcomes and are pleased to have partnered through Nutricia with Carers UK to support this report.”
Dorothy, from Bristol, cares for her husband Melvin who has an advanced brain disease. As a result, Melvin finds it difficult to maintain his weight.
“Melvin’s condition means he struggles to maintain his weight and, to ensure he is well-nourished, he must eat every two hours. He can quickly lose weight, so it is so important he is well-fed and this is something that causes me a lot of stress. I am constantly on high alert, looking out for symptoms of under-nutrition which can include; weight loss, reduced appetite, lack of interest in food and drink, feeling weaker, and taking longer to recover from illness.
“It is essential that I am able to find the right information and advice for Melvin, as when he is malnourished this can have a domino effect on the rest of his health and causes so many complications. As Melvin’s main carer, I have learned that keeping him well-nourished and hydrated helps keep other complicated symptoms at bay. By having the right information to hand, I am able to make more informed choices to help Melvin, which results in him being nourished, hydrated and feeling better in himself.”
Nutricia specialises in medical nutrition and has had a long-term partnership with Carers UK. The partnership has focused on providing resources and support for carers who are looking after loved ones with complex medical needs, including those who require specialised nutritional support.
You can read the full report here