A THIRD of elderly people do not eat a daily hot meal and one in five living alone is officially malnourished, according to research.

The figures, from Age UK’s Hungry to be Heard campaign, formed the basis for a survey by food company, On the Menu, which worked with Age UK offices in Durham, Derwentside and Chester-le-Street to investigate the barriers preventing the elderly from cooking their own meals.

It found that almost half, 49 per cent, had difficulty getting to shops in the bad weather and that 44 per cent did not cook for themselves because they struggled to lift heavy saucepans.

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Other challenges included difficulties reading cooking instructions and unclear product information.

Elizabeth Jones, founder of On the Menu, said: “Malnutrition amongst seniors has become a widespread issue and winter brings additional challenges to accessing suitable foods.

“Eating well is vital to fighting off potential illness, and with the temperature falling below zero in County Durham, ensuring that older relatives have enough nutritious food to eat can be a great worry for those who care for them, especially when they can’t be there themselves to cook a good quality hot meal.”

The survey findings come as no surprise to Susan Carter, senior officer at Age UK Darlington, who said the problem was worsened by the winter weather, but is a year-round issue.

“As soon as the temperature drops below freezing that is it; if you are in your 70s, 80s or 90s you are not going out,” she said.

“One fall can lead to a broken hip, which can lead to complications and death for a lot of vulnerable people.

“It is hard when you have people who have been professionals all their lives then suddenly they hit 88 and can’t look after themselves.

“They want to stay independent and live in their own homes, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it means that they can’t cook for themselves.”

To help the situation, Age UK runs weekly lunch clubs and has a volunteer befriending scheme, while Age UK County Durham has joined a Lottery-funded ‘Come Dine With Us’ project which holds lunch clubs in unconventional venues.

It launched this month with a meal at the Northumbrian Water headquarters in Pity Me and will continue in Durham city, Stanley, Shildon and Bishop Auckland over the next 18 months.