Health

QUB dementia and diet study seeking volunteers

A team at Queen's University Belfast is researching hidden hunger and the risk of dementia in older age. Nicola Ann Ward, PhD researcher at the Centre for Public Health, explains more...

Queen's University Belfast is leading a study exploring whether correcting malnutrition caused by poor food intake or nutrient deficiency can improve memory and thinking abilities.

CONSIDER this: you've lost interest in cooking meals and your appetite isn't what it used to be. Gradually lunch becomes a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Your belt is starting to feel a little loose. You brush it off because that's what happens when you get older, right?

You are not alone. A report by the Malnutrition Task Force revealed that 5 million people in the UK think it's normal to eat less and lose weight in later life.

This is likely because of outdated attitudes that getting thinner and becoming frail is a normal part of ageing.

Current estimates suggest one in 10 people over the age of 65 are at risk of malnutrition in Northern Ireland but these figures could be significantly higher as malnutrition is often 'hidden' and goes unrecognised.

The good news is that malnutrition is treatable and preventable, especially when detected early.

How can we spot the signs of hidden hunger and malnutrition? Lots of things contribute to malnutrition as we get older including bereavement, social isolation, changes in appetite and the rising food prices.

Other factors like low mood and stress can also cause changes in what we choose to eat.

Eating less nutritious food can lead to weight loss and longer-term health problems later down the road.

Recent research shows that weight loss increases the risk of dementia in later life, and occurs years before a person experiences memory impairment.

This begs the question: could changing lifestyle prevent malnutrition and loss of memory in older age?

Dr Claire McEvoy from the Centre for Public Health at Queen's University Belfast is leading one of the first research studies to understand whether correcting malnutrition caused by poor food intake or nutrient deficiency can improve memory and thinking abilities.

The PROMED-EX study, funded by the UK Research and Innovation councils, is currently recruiting older adults (60-plus years) across Northern Ireland to test a specially designed diet and exercise programme for six months.

Study participants will receive comprehensive health and memory checks, and support materials designed by experts and older adults to help correct malnutrition and promote brain health.

If you are aged 60 or over with a small appetite or poor diet and have noticed slight changes in your memory, please register your interest in the PROMED-EX study by emailing promedex@qub.ac.uk.

Alternatively, visit queenssport.com/sites/promed-cog and click on the 'PROMED-EX' link for recruitment information.