New report published by the Global Coalition on Aging and Nutricia examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older people’s health and well-being. During the pandemic, the role of nutrition for health has come into sharper focus but still remains under-addressed. The report reinforces the need for integrated care pathways that incorporate nutrition and physical exercise to better support the health of older people now, but also after the pandemic.
More people are growing older than ever before, representing a demographic change that will impact almost all aspects of society. Few – if any, had expected that 2020 – the start of the Decade of Healthy Aging – would be marked by a pandemic that is laying bare the challenges to aging in good health.
Those over 60, particularly older people with underlying medical conditions are among the most severely affected by COVID-19. Further, lockdown measures that were put in place to contain the spread of the virus often had unintended yet acute consequences for their social well-being.
As the world continues to contend with the serious effects of COVID-19 on societies, health systems, and economies as well as individual health, it has become increasingly clear that one’s health status upon contracting COVID-19 is crucial for success coming out of it. The value of building one’s “health capital” has generally been understood, but the importance of nutrition to overall health, in particular as we grow older is not as broadly recognized.
Michael W. Hodin, PhD, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging says: “One cannot overstate the central role nutrition plays in healthy aging. Simply put, there is no healthy aging without healthful nutrition. That truth resonates even more profoundly in a time of a global pandemic and should guide the efforts of healthcare systems and policymakers who should redouble efforts to support health and resilience of older people before, and after a serious health incident.”
Older people can become malnourished because of health incidents, a disease or the conditions of aging like frailty, sarcopenia or cognitive decline. Malnutrition is often under-recognized, or is too often and wrongly considered to be a normal part of aging or the disease progress. One of the consequences of malnutrition is an impaired the immune system, leading to a greater incidence of infection whilst harming the ability of the body to recover.
On average 31% of patients admitted to hospital is malnourished, undernutrition is even more prevalent among older people and is affecting up to 52.7% older people hospitalized with COVID-19. Dr. Riccardo Caccialanza, Head of the Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics Unit at the IRCCS Policlinico San Matteo Foundation in Pavia, Italy highlights the importance of nutritional care: “Every effort should be made to avoid or at least reduce underfeeding in hospital in order to limit the deleterious consequences of malnutrition on patient outcomes. This is crucial for older patients who are disproportionally affected by COVID-19.”
Nutrition is an essential component of recovery from severe disease, and nutritional care should be continued after hospital discharge as the body works to restore health. Dr. Patrick Kamphuis, Senior Medical Affairs Director for Nutricia comments: “The pandemic underlines the need to address malnutrition in older people across care settings. At Nutricia we believe adequate screening and management of malnutrition should be an integral part of care systems so everyone has a chance to age in good health and have the benefits of good nutritional care.”
Read more in our white paper about the integrated care pathways that are necessary, not only in the current context of the pandemic, but more broadly in our aging societies to enable the 2 billion people over 60 by 2050 to live longer healthier, and more active lives.