How well do nurses recognize malnutrition in elderly patients?

M H Suominen, E Sandelin, H Soini, K H Pitkala
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009, 63 (2): 292-6

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Malnutrition is a common and underrecognized clinical problem among aged institutionalized patients. The aim of this study was to investigate how well nurses recognize malnutrition in elderly patients in long-term care hospitals in Helsinki.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: In this descriptive, cross-sectional study, the nutritional status of 1043 elderly patients was assessed with the Mini Nutritional Assessment (MNA), their body mass indices (BMIs) (kg m(-2)) were counted, and factors related to their nutritional care were queried using a structured questionnaire. In addition, we asked the opinions of 53 nurses on whether they considered their patients to suffer from malnutrition. All the long-term care hospitals in Helsinki, Finland participated in this study.

RESULTS: The mean age of the patients was 81 years. The nurses considered only 15.2% of the patients to be malnourished, although the MNA showed that 56.7% were malnourished (MNA<17 points). Those recognized as malnourished were truly anorectic, with a mean BMI of 17.2. Of those patients having a BMI<20 and MNA<17, the nurses considered only one-third to be malnourished. Of those having a BMI>24 but MNA<17, only 2% were recognized as having malnutrition. Even those patients considered to be malnourished received snacks and nutritional supplements less than the patients that the nurses considered to have normal nutritional status. However, only one in six of the malnourished patients received oral nutritional supplements.

CONCLUSIONS: The nurses recognized malnutrition in their aged patients poorly. Nutrition education for nurses is urgently needed, as malnutrition and weight loss have been considered significant problems, and the benefits of nutritional care are well established.

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