Startling statistic: 60 percent of people 65 and older who visit an emergency department are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, according to results of a study published last month in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Even more startling: The large majority of these individuals have access to health care, are not critically ill and do not suffer from dementia.

And 77 percent of the malnourished patients had never previously been diagnosed with the condition.

“Given that seniors visit ERs more than 20 million times a year in the U.S., emergency physicians have an opportunity to screen and intervene in ways that may be very helpful without being costly,” said lead author Timothy Platts-Mills, M.D.

The study found that 52 percent of malnourished patients had symptoms of depression, 50 percent were in assisted living and 33 percent had difficulty buying groceries. Also, 38 percent had difficulty eating, mainly because of denture problems, dental pain or problems swallowing.

The troubling phenomenon of malnourished seniors plays into many health care trends. Among them: the aging of the population and the need for “wraparound care” that integrates family, community and medical resources to address issues that impact an individual’s wellbeing. Health care providers must become more aware of and able to refer patients to programs that can help with food, housing, transportation and other basic needs. Keeping people with health issues out of the hospital and in their own homes is also an emerging imperative, so being able to keep track of patients — including their nutrition — through home visits by clinicians and through remote monitoring technologies is becoming critical.

The hospital and the hospital ED are key players in these wraparound wellness efforts.

“The growing role of the emergency department as a community health resource makes it an essential place for identifying and addressing unmet needs of older adults,” Platts-Mills said.