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CMAJ. 1999 Sep 7;161(5):511-5.

Nutrition survey in an elderly population following admission to a tertiary care hospital.

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Division of Geriatric Medicine, Ottawa Hospital, Ont.



Malnutrition in elderly patients in institutions has become an issue of clinical concern, but it remains largely unrecognized in acute care hospitals. The demonstrated benefits of intervention emphasize the need for routine nutritional assessment. The objectives of this study were to determine the prevalence of malnutrition in elderly patients admitted to a tertiary care centre and to test the sensitivity and specificity of 3 nutrition screening tools.


Between July and November 1996 patients 65 years and older were consecutively recruited from the general medicine, orthopedics, general surgery and neurosciences services of The Ottawa Hospital--General Campus within 72 hours of admission. They were interviewed using 3 nutritional screening tools: one developed by Chandra and colleagues (Chandra), the Nutrition Screening Initiative (NSI) and the Mini Nutritional Assessment (MNA). A detailed nutrition assessment was then undertaken, which included anthropometric assessment, laboratory tests, determination of risk factors and assessment of dietary intake. A dietitian blinded to the screening results classified each patient as being well nourished, at risk for malnutrition or malnourished. The prevalence of malnutrition was assessed, and screening results were compared with the results of the detailed nutrition assessment for sensitivity and specificity.


In total, 160 patients (86 women) were recruited. Detailed nutrition assessments were completed for 152 patients, of which 62 (40.8%) were found to be well nourished, 67 (44.1%) at moderate risk for malnutrition and 23 (15.1%) malnourished. Matched comparisons showed that, of the 23 malnourished patients, 1 was found to be at high risk for malnutrition using the Chandra screening tool, 9 using the NSI and 4 using the MNA, giving sensitivities of 32%, 54% and 57%, and specificities of 85%, 61% and 69%, respectively.


Given the high rate of malnutrition or risk of malnutrition in this study, admitting physicians need to be aware of this problem and its scope. The 3 screening tools tested performed poorly in comparison with the detailed nutrition assessment. This may have been because the score thresholds for the screening tools were set for screening purposes and because the screening tools were designed for different settings and a wider population.

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