Malnutrition in Georgia Nursing Homes

What is Considered Malnutrition?

Changes in the body are inevitable with aging. Some of those changes increase nutritional risk for older adults because depending on multiple factors, including health issues, activity level, and energy expenditure, caloric requirements change. According to recent data from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Academy) and the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN), up to 71 percent of older patients are at nutritional risk – or are already malnourished – putting them at an increased risk of sickness or death. The Academy and ASPEN have defined malnutrition as the following:

A patient with two or more of the following six characteristics:

  • Insufficient energy intake
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Loss of subcutaneous fat
  • Localized or generalized fluid accumulation that may mask weight loss
  • Diminished functional status as measured by handgrip strength

If you suspect your loved one is malnourished due to abuse or neglect at a Georgia nursing home, call us today for a free consultation at (706) 354-4000

Ritchie, Yukawa (2017, October 10) Geriatric nutrition: Nutritional issues in older adults. Retrieved from www.uptodate.com.

What Causes Malnutrition?

Malnutrition is usually due to a lack of food or nutrients, but that lack is often caused by a combination of factors. Certain diseases, psychological issues, or social restrictions can lend to diminished nutrients. Nursing home neglect and abuse can also cause malnutrition in residents who aren’t on an acceptable diet, don’t get the help they need, or are overlooked due to understaffing. Here are some examples of issues that may cause malnutrition in Georgia nursing home residents:

  • Liver Disease
  • HIV
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dementia
  • Dental problems
  • Anorexia
  • Use of certain medications
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty absorbing nutrients
  • Diminished sense of taste or smell
  • Stomach/digestive problems
  • Isolation
  • Neglect/abuse
  • Limited income
  • Dietary restriction
  • Limited access to food
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism or addiction

What Happens When an Elderly Person is Malnourished?

A lack of proper nutrients can cause a host of physical and mental issues, some of them deadly if not recognized and reversed quickly enough. Unfortunately, malnourishment can start a cycle that’s difficult for an older person to overcome. A weakened immune system puts an elderly person at risk for illness and infections. It also makes it harder for the body to heal wounds. Here are a few health issues associated with malnourishment:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Muscle weakness/atrophy
  • Decreased bone mass/arthritis
  • Bone fractures
  • Anemia
  • Lethargy
  • Kidney failure
  • Chronic heart failure
  • Obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Rickets
  • Memory loss/brain fog
  • Depression
  • Anorexia/no desire to eat
  • Irritability/anxiousness
  • Changes in hair color/skin
  • Hair loss
  • Changes in vision

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Signs Your Loved One is Malnourished

If you or your loved one has experienced any of the above health concerns, malnutrition may play a role. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s often difficult to detect malnutrition in an elderly person, but detecting problems early on is crucial to prevent further complications. The Mayo Clinic suggests that observation is the key to recognizing malnutrition.

If you notice any of the following signs, your loved one may be malnourished:

  • Sudden or progressive weight loss
  • Refusal to eat or lack of interest in food/mealtime
  • Poor food choices during meals/lack of key nutrient-rich foods
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Depression
  • Tired all the time
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone and/or joint pain
  • Increased bruising/infections
  • Frequent sickness
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Dry/flaky skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Straw-like hair/dull hair
  • Chronic constipation or other digestive issues
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Swollen limbs due to edema
  • Mouth sores
  • Pressure injuries
  • Poor/blurred vision

How to Combat/Reverse Malnutrition:

What Nursing Home Staff Should Be Doing

Malnutrition doesn’t always call for a complete dietary overhaul. Even small changes, incorporated consistently, can make a big difference in the long run. When an underlying cause of weight loss is identified, like a medical illness, or inability to chew food, it is most important to treat the condition first. Here is a list of some suggested actions to help combat and reverse malnutrition. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are responsible for the well-being of their residents and should already have a plan of action for each resident based on their age, health, and other criteria.

  • Involve doctors and dieticians
    • If your loved one has lost 5 percent or more of their body weight, caregivers should be working with his or her doctors to identify and address the issue
  • Involve dentists to treat oral pain, chewing, or swallowing problems
  • Encourage healthy eating habits by adding nutrient-rich foods such as peanut butter, vegetables, fruits, meats, whole grains, eggs, milk, and cheese
  • Supplement nutrients such as Vitamin D, A, B-12 and iron with vitamins, if necessary
  • For residents who refuse to eat or can’t consume the appropriate amount of nutrient-rich foods each day, incorporate a supplement shake between meals
  • Plan healthy snacks between meals such as fruit smoothies, fruit, cheese, granola bars, or peanut butter
  • Make meals a social event where loved ones, friends, and or family drop by
  • Encourage exercise such as daily walks. Even light exercise for 15 minutes can help stimulate appetite
  • Ensure healthy food options are always accessible
  • Ensure that foods meet individual tastes. Suggest foods that fit the resident’s ethnic or regional preferences
  • Spend time with your loved one
  • Observe their mealtime habits

Is Malnutrition a Sign of Abuse or Neglect?

Malnutrition may indicate neglect or abuse when:

  • A nursing home resident is unable to feed themselves and staff aren’t making proper accommodations
  • Significant weight loss is ignored or unattended to
  • Adequate food isn’t offered throughout the day (quantity and quality)
  • Doctors and other healthcare professionals are uninvolved
  • Your loved one is scared to eat, never leaves their room, or complains of hunger
  • Your loved one complains about food choices and/or isn’t offered alternate options
  • Nursing home staff haven’t developed an appropriate diet/meal schedule, don’t adhere to one, or don’t take it seriously
  • Caregivers don’t properly follow Doctors’ or nutritionists’ orders
  • A nursing home resident is chronically ill, in pain, or has chronic infections that aren’t properly cared for

Another sign of neglect or abuse is when nursing home staff fails to communicate with outside family or healthcare professionals about your loved ones’ nutritional, dietary, or weight loss issues.

When Do I Need a Lawyer? If you suspect your loved one is malnourished due to abuse or neglect at a Georgia nursing home, call us today for a free consultation at (706) 354-4000. Nursing homes are required by law to act in accordance with the standard of care ordinarily exercised by skilled nursing facilities or long-term care facilities.

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