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As a society we’re slowly becoming more aware of the dangers of obesity and the need to manage our weight to keep fit and healthy, but for older people we need to think about the other end of the spectrum too.

It's thought about 1.3 million older people living in the UK suffer from malnutrition - it’s a serious problem and not often talked about.

Losing weight as you get older is not inevitable, it isn’t a natural part of the aging process and it can have serious health consequences.

Eating and drinking enough is important to stay healthy and independent in your own home.

Malnourished older people visit their GP twice as often, experience more hospital admissions and have longer lengths of stay.

They also have an increased risk of infection and may take longer to recover from surgery and illness.

It can often be hard to spot if someone is becoming malnourished, especially if you see them regularly as changes may be small.

Visual signs include rings becoming looser on fingers and clothes may become baggy.

Physically people may find it harder to keep warm and they may get frequent infections or find it hard to shake off colds and infections.

If someone has been losing weight without meaning to then there are easy, small changes that can help:

  • Try three small meals each day with snacks and milky drinks in between
  • If you can’t eat a pudding after a meal, have it as a snack later on
  • If you can, prepare foods in bite sized pieces so it's easier to eat
  • Keep your mouth or gums in good shape and make sure dentures fit correctly so it doesn’t hurt when you eat
  • Fortify a pint of whole milk with two tablespoons of milk powder. Keep it in the fridge and use for cereal, milk puddings and milky drinks to add extra needed calories without hassle

Drinking is as important as eating. Try to drink plenty of fluid throughout the day, although try not to have a big drink before a meal as this may fill you up instead of the food.

Why not encourage them to join a local luncheon or social club as getting out and eating with others can help stimulate the appetite.

If you are concerned about an older friend or family member's unplanned weight loss encourage them to contact their GP for advice.