Dietary and care practices, morbidity and nutritional status of the elderly in igembe south, Meru County, Kenya
Munoru, Faith K.
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Malnutrition is one of the main factors that contribute significantly to health status mortality and general wellbeing of elderly people. The elderly have a greater risk of malnutrition due to high morbidity rate, lack of care and support, loss of muscle mass that normally come with ageing and physiological changes that derail intake of food, digestion, nutrients absorption and metabolism. Physical disabilities also interfere with their ability to look for and prepare food. For any interventions addressing the nutritional issues in elderly people to succeed, the magnitude of the problem and associated factors need to be clearly investigated. In Kenya, studies have been conducted on institutionalized elderly persons and those residing in urban areas but the elderly living in the rural community is a less studied group. This study sought to find out what dietary and care practices exist in the study area, the morbidity status and their relationship to the nutritional status of an elderly population in a rural set up. The study was cross sectional analytical by design and was conducted in Igembe South, Meru County. A sample size of 152 elderly persons was targeted. Respondents were selected using simple random sampling. Data was collected using Researcher administered questionnaires to the elderly and focus group discussion guide. An observation checklist was used to validate some of the data collected through the interviews. Data was entered then analyzed using Statistical Package for Social Sciences software and Nutrisurvey computer package. BMI and MUAC parameters were used to determine the respondents’ nutritional status by means of WHO cut offs. The study population was described by means of descriptive statistics. Correlation between income and dietary intakes and the nutritional status of the elderly people was done using Pearson correlation moment. Chi-square test established relationships between sex and age groups of the elderly and their nutritional status. A P value of < 0.05 was considered significant. The study population consisted of 88 females (58%) and 64 males (42%). The mean age was 71 ±8 years. The mean energy intake was 1587 ±653 for men and 1442 ±590 for women. Loneliness was a significant problem with 25.6% of the participants living alone. Based on WHO BMI cutoffs, 39.4% elderly persons were undernourished, 50.7% were normal, 7.2% overweight and 2.6% were obese. Morbidity was high with 89.5% of the respondents reporting to have been sick 2 weeks prior to the study. Nutritional status was correlated with household income, amount spent on food, age, dietary intake, living alone and functionality of the elderly. The study concluded that malnutrition is a major problem among the elderly hence is a public health concern that demands for specific interventions targeting the elderly and the community at large. Behavior change and communication involving all the stakeholders in the welfare of the elderly should be emphasized. The findings will influence policy making and assist in designing appropriate nutrition interventions for the elderly people in the country.