Frail community-dwelling elderly people take oral nutritional supplements (ONS) to prolong their independence, whereas the main motive for frail elderly people in care homes is to achieve small improvements in quality of life. These are the conclusions of researchers from Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, based on personal interviews with elderly ONS users. The results will help GPs, nutritionists and pharmacists to give personal advice to the elderly, and improve consumption of these oral nutritional supplements.
“Previous research on ONS often concentrated on the features of the product itself, such as taste and volume, and the way in which the drink was consumed, for example out of a glass or directly from the container using the accompanying straw. We didn’t know much about people’s personal motives for taking ONS, although this seems an important aspect of whether or not they take it on a daily basis”, says Louise den Uijl, PhD candidate at Consumer Science & Health.
In cases where regular nutritional advice and supplements are not enough, ONS can sometimes improve the nutritional condition, and therefore the quality of life, of elderly people. In principle, ONS can be used as a meal replacement, but the elderly people in this study used it as a ‘snack’. They considered the product to be a food rather than a medicine, and took it either because they felt the benefits or because it had been prescribed by their GP or nutritionist, who they saw as an authority or person they could trust.
Independent and active
Elderly people want to live independently and lead an active life for as long as possible. At the same time, malnourishment is a serious problem among the group of frail elderly people. ONS can help them to recuperate and ward off malnourishment. This study shows that if you want to exert a positive influence on elderly people’s eating habits, it is important to ascertain their personal motives before giving them professional advice. “We can imagine that elderly people would be more inclined to take their ONS if the healthcare professional concerned were able to point out the benefits in their personal situation. This could be staying healthy enough to be able to stay in their own home, or providing them with sufficient