More than half of "cognitively intact" seniors who went to the emergency department at University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill last summer were either malnourished or at risk for it.
That's according to a new study published this month in the online issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine. Specifically, the small sample of 138 patients age 65 and older surveyed across eight weeks in June and July 2013 found that 16% were malnourished and 60% were either malnourished or at risk.
Before sounding the alarm bells, however, it's important to put this limited study into perspective.
"Our study is restricted to a single emergency department in the Southeastern United States," cautions study coauthor Timothy Platts-Mills, MD, an assistant professor of emergency physician at UNC School of Medicine. "That said, I don't think ours is off-the-charts high. It is probably fairly representative and I would be surprised if it's much lower than 6% in any ED, which is what we view as the baseline in any community."
Many of these elderly patients do not fit the stereotype of the destitute recluse with no access to care or the cognitive capacity to know better. For example, 95% of the patients in the survey had a primary care provider, 93% lived in a private residence, 96% had some health insurance, 4% were Medicare/Medicaid dual eligible, 64% had both Medicare and secondary insurance, 69% were white, and 35% had a college education.