Over half of malnourished patients in hospital also show signs of depression, according to a small-scale study presented today at the International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Edinburgh.

Doctors from Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust in London studied 129 elderly patients who were admitted to medical wards in August 2009. They were assessed for malnutrition and depression.

The mean age of the patients was 80.2 years. 70 (54%) of the patients showed signs of malnutrition and 60 (47%) had depression.

40 of the 70 malnourished patients (57%) were also depressed. Of the non-malnourished patients, only 9 (15%) were depressed.

Dr Shakil Alam, lead author of the study, said: "We found that nutritional deficit was significantly associated with depression. However, further research is needed to find the direction of causation in this relationship - does being depressed put people at greater risk of malnutrition, or does malnutrition make people depressed? Or is there another factor at work?

Malnutrition and depression are very common in the elderly, and can lead have serious implications. Dr Alam said: "Our study shows that health professionals need to take the problems of malnutrition and depression extremely seriously. If staff identify patients as suffering from one of these problems, it should prompt screening for the other."


The research was presented at the International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Edinburgh, 21-24 June 2010.

Royal College of Psychiatrists