Hospitalized patients are nutritionally left on their own in Cameroon, because we don’t have nutritional specialist (nutritionist and dietitians) in our different hospitals to take care of their nutritional needs. This is a problem because in order to maintain a good health we need two parts, the medical part and the nutritional part. There is a group of people called the ageing who highly need this second part (nutritional part) in order to maintain their good health and even to prevent diseases related to age.
Nutrition is really vital for older adults to successfully maintain functional status, independence, and quality of life, since, as they age, many face failing health, chronic diseases or other physiological and psychological changes that can lead to undernutrition. Aged-related changes contributing to nutritional problems include: alteration in taste and smell, swallowing disorders called ‘dysphagia’ (increase the risk of silent aspiration and pneumonia), functional changes and alterations in the gastro intestinal tract which include impaired oesophageal peristalsis, decrease transpyloric flows and delayed gastric emptying; mild achlorhydria resulting from atrophic gastritis, constipation, diverticula etc.
Other aged-related changes involve hormones (increased activity of cholecystokinin and leptin, and decrease activity of ghrelin), altered neurotransmitters and cytokines. The prevalence of undernutrition is increasing in the ageing population and is associated with a decline in: functional status, impaired muscle function, decrease bone mass, immune dysfunction, anaemia, reduced cognitive function, poor wound healing, delayed recovery from surgery, higher hospital readmission rates and mortality. So nutritional assessment is important because it help to identify and treat patients at risk of malnutrition.
Undernutrition costs individuals, the health care system and the society billions every year, thus targeted actions to prevent and treat malnutrition can only be cost-effective. A study done in Cameroon particularly in the North West Region in 2014 show us that the prevalence of undernutrition in the ageing was 25.5% and 36.8% were at risk of undernutrition. This means that among 100 elderly about 25 of them are undernourished and about 37 of them are at risk of undernutrition. After seeing all the problems that follows, the state of undernutrition in the elderly, we can understand why the life expectancy of Cameroon is low. We are just saying that it can be one of the reason why our elderly don’t reach a certain age, are so few in our society and mostly why most of them look so weak and unpleasant in our eyes.
Some of our youth associate witchcraft to ageing due to their bad physical state and this lead to the rejection of this population in our towns. Putting this population aside is like saying putting our cultural richness away. A wise man said we need to learn first from the mistakes of the past in order to move ahead in the future, without the past we are moving ahead like sheeps with no leader. The elderly represent the living history of a country. They tell us the story of our lives, especially where we come from and give us the wisdom we need to move towards our future.
So we need to keep them alive and in a good physical state so that they can be useful to our Country. For that one of the ways to accomplish this is to detect their nutritional needs, put in place a nutritional system in our hospitals and even in our communities that will take care of their nutritional needs.
By Choudine Awoumou Zoa Christine