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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Putting the elderly at the heart of medical nutrition innovation

By Talking Nutrition editors

The elderly malnutrition challenge:

  • Between 15% and 30% of older people worldwide are estimated to have so-called ‘anorexia of aging’1, with up to 60% of populations in care homes at risk of malnutrition2
  • Medical nutrition solutions, such as oral nutritional supplements (ONS), are often used to improve nutritional status in the elderly, however, compliance is typically low
  • DSM’s latest consumer research identifies the key barriers to compliance and how medical nutrition products can be rethought to appeal to senior adults

The impact of poor nutrition 

On this International Day of Older Persons [Monday 1st October 2018], we’re focusing on the elderly malnutrition crisis and how we can decrease its growing burden on individuals, as well as healthcare systems and societies worldwide.

Limited nutrient intake – particularly from nutrient dense foods – can have devastating consequences on elderly patients, including nutritional frailty, impaired immune function, reduced quality of life and loss of independence. Not only does this have an impact on the individual, but malnutrition can also lead to significant healthcare costs and place great pressure on society. While oral nutritional supplements (ONS) are often recommended between meals, non-compliance is widespread, especially in care homes. This means that elderly individuals often struggle to achieve the recommended nutritional status. 

Medical nutrition survey: what do consumers want? 

In a recent survey, DSM interviewed senior adults across the UK, France and Germany, and those involved in providing their nutrition, including family members, carers, care home managers, specialists and GPs, to understand the unmet nutritional needs of the elderly. The survey discovered that there are several reasons why medical nutrition compliance is often low among the older population. Reduced appetite appeared to be the biggest issue, however mental and physical barriers also have a significant impact on food intake and consumption of ONS. For example, feeling pressured to eat at meal times, as well as having a limited choice of ‘unappealing’ food options, were found to influence older patients’ eating habits. Furthermore, the dietary preferences of older people are often misrepresented or ignored by those developing medical nutrition products or making decisions regarding elderly care. 

Innovating in medical nutrition 

As the population ages and the number of vulnerable people increases, there is an urgent need for more appealing product formats to ensure that elderly patients receive the specific micro- and macronutrients they require to maintain good health and a high quality of life for as long as possible.

Offering ONS in a range of dosage sizes, delivery formats, flavors, textures and nutritional values is the key to creating successful medical nutrition solutions. ONS must also be easy to integrate into meal times and ‘food like’ as possible. If an ONS has a likeness to food consumed and enjoyed by an elderly person when they were younger, they are more likely to want to consume the product within a clinical setting.

Meeting the nutritional needs of the elderly is a complex challenge, often influenced by factors such as metabolic changes resulting in absorption and utilization problems. Therefore, while it is important to consider ways to make ONS appealing to senior adults, malnutrition will not be solved through tackling this issue alone.  

Education is key 

As demonstrated in DSM’s survey, listening to the opinions of the senior population is essential to truly understand what their preferences are and enable the development of novel medical nutrition solutions that will help to overcome challenging compliance barriers, increasing overall independence and wellbeing. However, further advances in the medical nutrition market can only be achieved through the continued education of stakeholders, to ensure that older people’s nutritional needs are met.

For more insights and to learn how DSM can support the development of medical nutrition solutions, contact

1. A. Pilgrim et al., ‘An overview of appetite decline in older people’, Nurs Older People, vol. 27, no. 5, pg. 29-35, 2015.

2. Nutrition Day Conference 2010, Malnutrition and appropriate nutritional care, Cornel Christian Sieber, Chair Geriatric Medicine Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nurnberg Institute for Biomedicine of Aging Centre for Medicine of Aging Nuremberg.