1. Duplicate diet analysis for energy, protein, zinc and copper with estimates of biochemical status for Zn and Cu were undertaken in twenty-one elderly long-stay inpatients (mean age 82 (range 63–89) years) consuming their customary hospital diet and in a stable medical condition. Fourteen patients had a long-standing and significant healing problem, either a leg ulcer or pressure sore.
2. Mean daily intakes of energy (5·2 MJ), protein (45 g), Zn (85 μmol) and Cu (14 μmol) were low in comparison with both official recommendations and levels of intake at which metabolic equilibrium was observed in healthy elderly people studied by the same methods (Bunker et al. 1984a).
3. Mean leucocyte Zn (9 pmol/106 cells) and Cu (7·5 pmol/106cells) were low in comparison with results from healthy elderly people (Bunker et al. 1984a), implying suboptimal status for these elements. Those patients with healing problems tended to have the lower values within the range.
4. Recommendations are made with respect to improving nutritional status in this disadvantaged group of people.