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Nutrition and Older People

Exploring the Nutritional Needs of Older People in a Hospital Environment: The educational perspective

Project Leader: Dr. Sue Morison

In 2009, the Centre for Excellence in Interprofessional Education (CEIPE) secured funding from the Changing Ageing Partnership (CAP) at the School of Law’s Institute of Governance. This funding supported research which explored the nutritional needs of older people in a hospital environment from an educational perspective.

Nutrition is the bedrock of good care and recovery from illness. However, poor nutritional status is common among hospitalised older people, with 40% malnourished on admission, rising to 60% at risk of becoming malnourished or their situation getting worse whilst in hospital.  Healthcare education has an important role to play raising the profile of the dietary and nutritional needs of hospitalised older people, as well as in enabling healthcare students and practitioners to understand, and be equipped to address these needs. To date, however, nutrition education appears to have received little attention in undergraduate medical and nursing curricula, and is only recently beginning to increase its profile in professional training programmes for healthcare staff.  

Through interviews with patients, as well as students and curriculum developers, this study aimed to investigate the role of healthcare education in promoting interest in and understanding of nutritional care for the older person in a hospital environment and determined ways in which this might be improved. Crucially, the study provided a voice for older people on this issue.

The findings of this exploratory research study raised the profile of nutrition for hospitalised older people, complemented the current government strategy to improve nutritional care of patients and informed educational policy makers, healthcare curriculum developers and other key stakeholders.

The key recommendations from this study are:

  1. Hospital staff should continue to encourage and progress practices which promote a positive eating experience such as increased monitoring of weight, greater inter-professional communication, notation of food consumed and discussions with family members/carers in addition to listening to older patients.
  2. The depth and breadth of teaching and practical time devoted to nutrition and older people in the medical and nursing curriculum should be increased.  
  3. Nutrition and the older person should be taught using an interprofessional approach across a wide range of relevant disciplines.
  4. The role of assessment in promoting learning in medical and nursing curricula is important and educators cannot ignore the direction in which their choice of assessment drives students. If nutritional care of patients and elderly patients in particular is to be taken seriously then it needs a place in the curriculum and in practical skills assessments.
  5. Hospital practices concerning the nutritional care of older patients should be adapted to facilitate students learning experience.



Morison, S., Machniewski, S., Purdy, J., Carlisle, K., Rea, M. & Coleman, D. (2010) Exploring the Nutrtional Needs of Older People in a Hospital Environment: The Educational Perpective. Report for the Changing Ageing Partnership. Belfast, QUB, Institute of Governance. | Download Full Report (PDF, 1.23MB) | Download Project Summary (PDF, 412 KB)

Contact Information

Centre for Excellence in Interprofessional Education
Queen's University Belfast
School of Dentistry
Grosvenor Road
Belfast BT12 6BP

Tel: 028 9063 5313

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