Malnutrition Among the Elderly:
Expensive and Preventable

Heaton Resourses
  Older Americans, due to the many environmental, social, economic and physical changes of aging, are at disproportionate risk of poor nutrition that can adversely affect their health and vitality.
In Healthy People 2000: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives, nutrition screening was emphasized as a necessary, routine component of primary care because so few physicians or other health professionals ask about nutrition.

A Report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor stated that "85% of the older population have one or more chronic conditions that have been documented to benefit from nutrition interventions."

In 1993, a national survey commissioned by the Nutrition Screening Initiative of 750 geriatric doctors, nurses and administrators of hospitals, nursing homes, and home care agencies reported that one in four of their elderly patients suffer from malnutrition as do one half of elderly hospital patients and two in five nursing home residents.

Malnourished older Americans get more infections and diseases; their injuries take longer to heal; surgery on them is riskier; and their hospital stays are longer and more expensive.

Nutrition screening and interventions are cost effective; result in fewer complications; faster recovery and shorter hospital stays; and reduce hospital expenditure.

Cost savings of medical nutritional therapies have been calculated from a Ross study in 15 states to be able to keep charges at $11,000 - $16,000 per patient per hospital stay, if cost-effective nutritional therapy is provided.

Studies completed by The American Dietetic Association have demonstrated that for every dollar spent on nutrition screening and intervention, at least $3.25 is saved.

Hundreds of managed care plans have already developed nutrition screening programs to reinforce case management, health promotion and disease prevention, and chronic disease management. Additionally, intervention strategies trigger the use of health education and social services within the plan or the community thus improving the scope and quality of care at little or no cost to the plan.