Joan Saunders
Joan Saunders says she now views food as an integral part of her medical management and credits the team of dietitians at Toronto General Hospital for providing tools and support. (Photo: Courtesy Joan Saunders)

For the past 14 years, Joan Saunders has been courageously fighting a progressive lung disease. 

One of the many hurdles she's faced during the course of the disease is maintaining her weight and nutrition status, which is a common and complex issue for many patients. 

Malnutrition is a deficiency in energy, protein and other nutrients, which affects functional ability, body tissues, and overall health. 

In a recent study completed by the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force (CMTF), it's estimated that nearly 45 per cent of adults were found to be malnourished upon admission to hospital.  Acute illness or trauma, infections, and diseases that cause inflammation all contribute to increased nutritional needs. This combined with a decreased appetite and other factors affecting oral intake, malnutrition can become quite difficult to correct.

Throughout several admissions to UHN over the past five years, Joan received ongoing support from the Clinical Nutrition team.  

She credits Shauna Knight, Diet Technician at Toronto General Hospital, and the team of dietitians, with giving her the tools and confidence to tackle malnutrition while in hospital and at home.  

"Shauna has been my cheerleader, helping me to stay the course…taking the time to come and check in and converse with me really made the difference," Joan says. "I am grateful for the investment made in me as a patient." 

She recalls that Shauna provided her with practical suggestions for how to gain weight, introduced her to a variety of nutrition supplements and carefully tailored her nutrition care plan in hospital based on her unique needs.  

Shauna also took the time to teach Joan how to use an online nutrition calculator, and suggested using a meal delivery service at home when her energy levels were low.

Malnutrition promo photo
According to the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force, one in four patients lose weight unintentionally when they leave a hospital – this could lead to a return visit. (Photo: Canadian Malnutrition Task Force)

While malnutrition is considered preventable and treatable, it is often not recognized in hospitalized patients, resulting in many of those in need not receiving timely intervention.  Currently, most units at UHN do not systematically screen and monitor patients for malnutrition. 

The UHN Malnutrition Task Force, a multidisciplinary committee, is hoping to help change this. Dr. Johane Allard, director of the nutrition support program at UHN and co-chair of the CMTF, recommends that nutrition care processes should involve a team of physicians, nurses, registered dietitians, diet technicians, and other members of allied health, to treat food as medicine. 

Joan says she views foods as a large part of her medical management and knows firsthand the effect of malnutrition on her functional capacity and well-being. 

By continuing to use the tools provided to her in hospital, she recently celebrated a 6lb weight gain following discharge. ​

September 25-29 is Canadian Malnutrition Week. This year's theme for Canadian Malnutrition Week is From Hospital to Home, aiming to promote optimal nutrition care for patients not only in hospital, but when they are caring for themselves at home.

Click here to see the events planned across our hospital sitesGo to www.nutritioncareincanada.ca  for more information on this important cause.

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