Oral health and frailty

Reducing malnutrition and frailty in older people in primary care: understanding the impact of oral health in later life

Project Lead: Sheena Ramsay

Project Team: Newcastle

The number of people aged over 85 is rapidly increasing.  Frailty is very common in older people.  Frailty is closley related to malnutrition (undernourishment), and leads to disability, falls and frequent hospitalisations.  Malnutrition alone contributes >£5b in healthcare costs yearly and increased number of visits to GPs.  Problems of oral health (such as tooth loss, dryness of mouth, chewing difficulities, denture problems) are also very common in older age.  These oral health problems affect how well people eat, and result in poor nutritional intake.  It is, therefore, likely that oral health problems in older people lead to malnutrition and muscle weakness, and in turn lead to frailty.  However, the potentially key role of oral health in reducing malnutrition and frailty in older people is not well-recognised.  In this project, we will investigate the role of oral health in leading to malnutrition and frailty in older people.  We will use a study of men and women aged over 85 years (Newcastle 85+ Study) registered with general practices in and around Newcastle, with unique data on oral health as well as malnutrition and frailty.  There are very few studies worldwide that have such data in older people from a primary care setting.  We will explore the relationship of oral health and malnutrition and its subsequent impact on frailty.  Through this research we will be able to ascertain simple indicators of oral health that will help better identify older people in primary care who are at higher risk of malnutrition and frailty.  This will help us achieve greater reduction of both malnutrition and frailty in older people.