Beliefs about inevitable decline among home-living older adults at risk of malnutrition: a qualitative study

L. Payne, P. Harris, D. Ghio, J. Slodkowska-Barabasz, M. Sutcliffe, J. Kelly, M. Stroud, P. Little, L. Yardley, L. Morrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Approximately 14% of free-living adults aged ≥65 years are at risk of malnutrition. Malnutrition screen and treat interventions in primary care are few, show mixed results, and the advice given is not always accepted and followed. We need to better understand the experiences and contexts of older adults when aiming to develop interventions that are engaging, optimally persuasive and relevant. Methods: Using the Person-based Approach, we carried out 23 semi-structured interviews with purposively selected adults ≥65 years with chronic health or social conditions associated with malnutrition risk. Thematic analysis informed the development of key principles to guide planned intervention development. Results: We found that individuals’ beliefs about an inevitable decline in appetite and eating in older age compound the many and varied physical and physiological barriers that they experience. Also, we found that expectations of decline in appetite and physical ability may encourage resignation, reduce self-efficacy to overcome barriers, and reduce motivation to address weight loss and/or recognise it as an issue that needs to be addressed. Fear of loss of independence may also reduce the likelihood of asking general practitioners for advice. Conclusions: The key findings identified include a sense of resignation, multiple different barriers to eating and a need for independence, each underpinned by the expectation of a decline in older adulthood. Interventions need to address misperceptions about the inevitability of decline, highlight how and why diet recommendations are somewhat different from recommendations for the general population, and suggest easy ways to increase food intake that address common barriers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-851
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging/psychology
  • Appetite
  • Diet/psychology
  • Feeding Behavior/psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Independent Living/psychology
  • Male
  • Malnutrition/psychology
  • Motivation
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self Efficacy


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