Nutritional intervention can dramatically reduce incidents of dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing) and malnutrition among the elderly that costs public healthcare systems hundreds of millions of dollars, a Nestlé Nutrition Institute-organised conference in the south of Spain has been told.
The problem lead to 77m hospitalisations in the US in 2004/05, with an associated mortality rate of 13.7% and a public cost of around $550m.
Food scientists, nutritionists and other academics presented data that included 20%+ reductions in fractured bones and likelihood of falling in elderly people when boosted vitamin D levels were observed.
And pre-screening for nutritional inputs to determine any malnutrition status could reduce the chances of developing dysphagia.
Both forms of intervention had the potential to significantly reduce public healthcare spending, said the conference chair, professor Maurits Vandewoude, the Head of the Geriatrics Dept at the University of Antwerp in Belgium.
“Earlier nutrition intervention coupled with systematic screening will allow multi-disciplinary teams to more effectively manage these under-diagnosed conditions and reduce the economic and societal burden of these treatable life-threatening conditions,” professor Vandewoude said.
Professor Rebecca Leonard, the Clinical Director of the Voice and Swallowing Centre at University of California’s Davis campus pointed out that dysphagia is it itself a major cause of malnutrition in elderly people. Surveys have shown it affects more than 20% of over-50s, 40% of over-60s.
“Our studies have shown that older adults need longer swallowing time (25-30%) and experience a reduced upper oesophageal opening,” she told the conference in the southern Spanish city of Malaga.
Dr Helena Bascuñana Ambrós, Director of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department at Sant Pau University Hospital, in Barcelona said nutritional interventions could ease the problem of tiring muscles involved in swallowing in the elderly.
“The optimal intervention for older people with dysphagia is compensatory, rehabilitative, or a combination of both,” she relayed, highlighting how the internet was a potentially powerful tool in early detection, follow-up care and to avoid readmissions to hospitals and care facilities..
The Nestlé Nutrition Institute noted it provided such screening tools.
A workshop showed the effectiveness of vitamin D supplementation, where cited research showed a Vitamin D dose of more than 400IU per day led to a 20% reduction in non-spinal bone fractures. Other research showed 700IU per day coud reduce the likelihood of falling in the elderly by 23%.
A Cochrane review revealed a 21% decrease in mortality among undernourished elderly people if they were given food supplements containing various nutrients.