Spending on supplements is increasing in the elderly

By Nichola Murphy
Tuesday, 08 August, 2017

Malnourishment in the elderly population is on the rise, and budget cuts impacting on the catering standards of aged-care patients are exacerbating the situation. This is supported by research published in Nutrition and Dietetics that looked at the average food expenditure in Australian residential aged-care facilities (RACFs).

Over the 2015–2016 financial years, data collected through surveys on 817 RACFs found that the average spend per resident per day equated to about $8 on catering consumables — such as supplements, cutlery and paper goods — but only $6.08 was spent on raw ingredients. This suggests more money is being spent on supplements which are not as beneficial to the health of the elderly as fresh ingredients. This was reiterated by the fact that 56% of RACFs also reported spending 31c less on fresh produce in the last year compared to an increase of 50c cost for supplements. Therefore, figures show that the decrease in spending on raw food is not sufficient to satisfy the nutritional needs of the elderly.

The increasing numbers of supplements is worrying. Cherie Hugo, a PhD scholar from Bond University who is researching the economic value of good nutrition, explained the long-term benefits of healthy food as opposed to supplements.

“We want to quantify the value of good nutrition… that hasn’t been done in aged care before. I want to be able to say, ‘For every $1 spent on food you can expect this many dollars in health savings.’

“Wounds, falls, mood are all related to food. The residents develop all these things that are treated with more medication,” she explained.

The consequences of poor nutrition lead to diverse health effects including digestion issues, weight loss and oral health problems. A good diet not only improves bone and muscle health, which prevents medical costs, but it also provides psychological benefits of aiding memory recall and providing opportunities for the elderly to communicate. The general quality of life, both physically and mentally, relies on a good diet.

Therefore, the malnutrition problems in the elderly, which have reached over 1 in 2 residents, can be at least partially attributed to funding cuts and mounting economic pressure. RACFs often plan meals according to budget constraints, which therefore ignores the wellbeing of the patients.

Taking into consideration the fact that the average Australian adult spends $17.25 per day on food, budgets for the elderly are comparably low. Hugo’s findings provide a reference point to monitor this situation, with the hope of improving the diet of the elderly in the future.

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