Fighting against malnutrition in the elderly
October 14, 2009 Today, France has more than 20 million people over 50 years old, around 35% of the population. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be twice as many over 60s than today and three times as many over 70 year olds.
As for those over 80 years old, they will be four times as numerous. This data is all the more worrying for the fact that advances in age are associated with a slow decline in olfactive and gustative capacities, a decrease in physical capacity than can have an impact on dietary behaviou, and changes to the metabolic and immune systems. Several studies have in fact shown that these changes weaken the organism and limit its ability to adapt nutritional needs and dietary intake, thus leading to unbalances, even to malnutrition.
Confronted with this observation, it is necessary to act, hence the launch of AUPALESENS, a project developed with the clusters Vitagora and Valorial and funded by France's national research funding agency, ANR.
Coordinated by Virginie Van Wymelbeke, a doctor of nutrition of the elderly at the Champmaillot geriatric centre in Dijon, this fopur year project has a total of 9 partners. Its goal is to better understand the changes that take place during ageing, especially those that lead to the first signs of malnutrition. "The originality of this project is to not dissociate the sensory and nutrition in order to better understand how ageing can lead to malnutrition," explains Dr Van Wymelbeke.
The first phase of AUPALESENS will be in the form of a survey carried out among a population of sensors in different categories according to their living situation and their degree of independence or of dependence. If the elderly aged more than 65 are the main target population, the project will also focus on "younger" sebiors of around 55 years old. It is indeed important to be able to characterise this population in order to identify potential lifestyle risk factors that can lead to dietary imbalances.
"The results of this survey will allow us to launch the second phase during which we will be looking into how to improve food intake, whether it is a case of improving the product itself or, more generally, by offering the elderly person the possibility to take control of their meal," outlines Dr Van Wymelbeke.
The laboratories and food manufacturers that are partners in the project will thus be involved in optimising existing food products or even developing new ones. "We are going to study in particular food textures, the aim being to design products that are better adapted to the elderly, whose buccal and pharyngeal apparatus no longer functions normally," she explains. The next step will be to ensure that these new or modified products, and the reappropriation of the meal, lead to an improvement in eating enjoyment, and therefore increase dietary intake. Finally, the results will be exploited in the form of various recommendations towards health professionals and carers, but also a number of other organisations such as the Ministry of Health, food safety and health agencies and health insurers.
Source: Agence JFD and Co