Aim. This paper reports a literature review to examine the range of published tools available for use by nurses to screen or assess nutritional status of older adults, and the extent to which validity, reliability, sensitivity, specificity and acceptability of the tools has been addressed.
Background. The incidence of malnutrition in older adults is high. One method by which malnutrition or risk of malnutrition can be detected is by the use of nutritional screening or assessment tools.
Methods. A comprehensive literature review methodology was employed. A variety of electronic databases were searched for the period 1982–2002. Search terms incorporating nutrition, screening, validity, reliability and sensitivity and specificity were combined to retrieve relevant literature. In addition, manual searches were conducted and articles retrieved from those listed in key papers. In this paper, nutritional screening or assessment tools are described as tools which use a questionnaire-type format containing more than one risk factor for malnutrition, and give a quantitative or categorical assessment of risk.
Results. Seventy-one nutritional tools were located, 21 of which were identified as designated for use with an older population. A wide variety of risk factors for malnutrition are used with the tools, ranging from objective measurements to subjective assessment. Some tools identify an action plan based on the score obtained. Many tools appear not to have been subjected to validity and/or reliability testing but are used clinically.
Conclusions. As malnutrition is present in the older adult population, nutritional assessment and screening tools can be useful to highlight those in need of a nutritional care plan. However, many have not been subjected to evaluation and consequently may not demonstrate sensitivity and/or specificity in clinical use. The decision to use a particular tool should therefore be considered carefully.