Note: The majority of this article was contributed by Susan Saffel-Shrier, RDN, CD.
In July of 2022, family medicine clinical professor Susan Saffel-Shrier, RDN, CD received a three million-dollar from the Administration of Community Living (ACL) office of the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. The five-year grant began in August 2022, and the project it funds will greatly influence the health and food access of older Americans in Utah.
It is estimated that almost 50 percent of older Americans are malnourished, and that malnutrition significantly increases morbidity and mortality in this age group. The grant will address the identification of appropriate malnutrition screening, assessment, and therapy for older adults living in the community. Malnutrition is a multifactorial condition that requires a holistic approach. Utilizing the social determinants of health, frailty measures, and an age-specific nutrition-focused physical exam could potentially elucidate the appropriate methods to identify and treat malnutrition in this population.
Maintaining a high quality of life and independence for older adults can be precarious. The overarching goal of healthcare and healthy aging for the older adult is to maintain or improve function, and therefore the quality of their life. Malnutrition can impact the health of older adults through diminished nutritional adequacy, muscle strength, and functionality, thus making it important to know the best methods for measuring the effects of malnutrition among older Americans.
To determine the best screening methods, the study will initially screen potential participants using nutrition and frailty screening tools. If the screenings are positive, the intervention group will receive registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)-driven comprehensive malnutrition therapy and Congregate Senior Center directed physical activity. Nutrient intake, body composition and functionality will be tracked. The majority of the grant funding will be used to provide this RDN-driven malnutrition therapy and data collection at 10 Congregate Senior Centers.
This project expands upon two past grants investigating malnutrition among community-dwelling older adults that were funded by the USDHHS, Administration on Aging, Administration for Community Living. The current grant is also funded by the same agency. As part of their efforts, Saffel-Shrier’s team will be working with the Utah State Division of Aging and Adult Services and Area Agency on Aging, Congregate Senior Centers in Northern Utah.
This project has the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of older adults through improved nutrition and functionality and provide new direction in maintaining the health and wellbeing of older adults through appropriate nutrition screening, assessment, and therapy. The results of this project will assist in directing future nutrition-related services throughout the Aging Network within Utah and the United States. These results would also be transferable to other healthcare settings. Lastly, this project can result in increased malnutrition awareness for both older adults as well as the general public.