Objective: To determine the prevalence of malnutrition in a population of elderly hospitalised patients and to explore health professionals' perceptions and awareness of signs and risks of malnutrition and treatment options available.
Subjects and design: One hundred elderly patients and 57 health professionals from medical wards of a tertiary teaching hospital. Quantitative and qualitative study design using a validated malnutrition assessment tool (Mini Nutritional Assessment) and researcher-designed questionnaire to assess health professionals' knowledge of nutrition risk factors.
Main outcome measures: Mini Nutritional Assessment score, nutrition risk category and themes in health professionals' knowledge and awareness of malnutrition and its risk factors.
Results: Thirty per cent of patients were identified as malnourished while 61% were at risk of malnutrition. Documentation by health professionals of two major risk factors for malnutrition—recent loss of weight and appetite—were poor with only 19% and 53% of patients with actual loss of weight or appetite, respectively, identified by staff and only 7% and 9% of these patients, respectively, referred for dietetic assessment. While health professionals' knowledge of important medical risk factors for malnutrition was good, their knowledge of malnutrition risk factors such as recent loss of weight and loss of appetite was poor. Medical staff focused on biochemical factors when assessing nutrition status, while nursing staff focused on skin integrity and turgor.
Conclusion: Malnutrition in elderly hospitalised patients remains a significant problem with low rates of recognition and referral by medical and nursing staff. Considerable scope exists to develop training and education tools and to implement an appropriate nutrition screening policy to improve referral rates to dietitians.