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Support active aging and quality of life with a nutrition-focused quality improvement program

Aging well, as described by the World Health Organization(WHO), means maintaining physical and mental function as you get older. New research now documents that a nutrition-focused quality improvement program (QIP) can result in improved health and well-being and better nutritional outcomes for older adults who live in community settings.

According to the WHO, aging impacts functional abilities—both physical and mental. Healthy aging allows older adults to sufficiently maintain their functional abilities so they can attend to the activities that increase their perceived quality of life. The International Council on Active Aging describes seven dimensions of wellness as key to a high quality of life for older adults.

Maintaining good nutrition can play an important role in ensuring healthy aging and increasing the quality of life. Poor nutrition or malnutrition is all too common among older adults, with up to one out of every two older adults being at risk for malnutrition or becoming malnourished. Malnutrition can take many forms, including undernutrition (underweight), overnutrition (overweight/obese) or vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Malnutrition often goes undiagnosed and untreated, but a simple and personalized nutrition program can help improve an aging adult’s physical and mental health and overall quality of life.

A practical QIP can help hospital systems or healthcare professionals screen for and address malnutrition in older adults. QIPs involve systematic and continuous actions that lead to measurable improvement in healthcare services and the health status of targeted patient groups. A new study conducted in partnership with Javeriana University and San Ignacio Hospital in Bogota, Colombia, and Abbott demonstrates what is possible to better support healthy aging and nutrition outcomes.

This large, first-of-its-kind study in Latin America involved more than 600 older adults in Colombia. Many participants had recently been hospitalized or were managing a chronic disease, and all were either malnourished or at-risk for malnutrition. They were treated with a personalized nutrition program based on their dietary needs.

The QIP included three simple steps:

  • Screening and assessing all patients in the study for malnutrition or its risk;
  • Implementing a personalized nutrition care plan that included condition-specific oral nutrition supplements (ONS) along with nutrition and exercise education; and
  • Providing ongoing support and reinforcing compliance both in person and via telehealth.

As a result of the comprehensive nutrition-focused QIP, over half of study participants showed improvement in their nutrition status and in their muscle mass, as measured by calf circumference. More than two-thirds of participants also registered improvements in weight. Those who consumed ONS were almost twice as likely to see improvements in their nutritional status.

The improvements in nutrition status, muscle mass and maintenance of body weight and body mass index (BMI) also helped boost other physical functioning and quality of life measures that cultivate healthy aging. Participants who had compromised baseline status in cognition, physical functionality, psychological health and well-being and/or quality of life registered improvements in healthy aging factors as measured by various survey instruments. (See Figure 1)


Figure 1. Healthy aging factors affected by QIP


Key:     MMSE: Mini-mental State Examination

            SPPB: Short-Physical Performance Battery

            GDS: Geriatric Depression Scale

            EQ-VAS: EuroQol Visual Analogue Scales

            EQ-5D-3L: EuroQol-5 Dimensions 3-level version

Nutrition-focused QIPs, like the one implemented in the Colombian study, demonstrate the effectiveness of providing comprehensive nutrition care. In addition, the patient-focused approach benefits individuals and healthcare systems by providing an estimated cost-savings of $210 per-patient.

Implementing nutrition-focused QIPs helps give patients the best opportunities for successful recoveries, allowing them to live healthy lives that support active aging.

Suela Sulo, PhD, is director of Health Economics and Outcomes Research, Abbott Nutrition Division of Abbott in Chicago.

Note: This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from research. The view expressed here are not necessarily those of the ICAA, we encourage you to make your own health and business decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified professional.


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