Five Signs of Malnutrition in the Elderly

Nursing Home Abuse

Malnutrition occurs when a person’s body does not get the right amount of type of nutrients to support ongoing health and organ function. Malnutrition is a life-threatening condition that can put a person at risk for numerous other health complications. In the elderly, there is a high risk of malnutrition due to limited access to healthy meals due to changes in abilities and cognition.

If your family member is in a medical center or nursing home and is suffering from malnutrition. In that case, contact a nursing home neglect attorney who can actively guide you in discovering why this occurred and explore potential solutions. If you are concerned about your family member’s care at any level, you must immediately take action and consult a nursing home injury lawyer immediately.

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Why Malnutrition Is Hard to Spot in the Elderly

MalnutritionMalnutrition can occur to anyone, but elderly individuals are at a higher risk of developing this condition than others for multiple reasons. A person who does not get enough food, routine access to highly nutritious food, or supplemental support will develop malnutrition.

Up to 50 percent of older Americans may experience malnourishment. That includes those within treatment centers and outside of them. The problem is it is not always easy to determine that this is occurring to a person. You may notice they have lost weight but don’t look unhealthy. They may seem to just look older, but not necessarily ill.

Though it can be hard to spot, malnutrition is something to consistently monitor in people who are over the age of 65, especially if they live alone or if they live in a nursing home or assisted living community.

Five Signs Your Family Member Is Malnourished

The risk of being malnourished is high, but early intervention can help to minimize the negative outcome that occurs in patients who are suffering from this condition. Several things you can look for as a family member or friend can indicate that they need additional support.

Number One: Unplanned weight loss

Weight loss is often the first indication of malnutrition. The body actively stores extra calories in its fat cells as part of its design. When the body does not have the food it needs, it turns to these reserves for energy to keep all organs working properly. When a person starts to lose weight, and it is unintentional, that indicates, for some reason, that the body is using those stored fat cells.

Note any unintentional loss of body weight. However, when a person is losing five to ten percent of their body weight within a few months and not trying to do so, that is worrisome. This can occur in people of any weight, including those who may be overweight.

Investigate any weight loss that occurs without planning. Illnesses or other medical complications that can cause this need evaluation.

Remember that in elderly people, it can be hard to spot weight loss that is this substantial. However, you may notice loose or sagging skin on the arms or legs. You may notice that their clothing no longer fits well and seems too big for them.

Number Two: Onset of weakness and being tired all of the time

A lack of nutrition will impact the function of all body organs. This becomes true of muscles often first. Once the body eliminates all fat reserves, it resorts to using muscle mass as a source of nutrients to keep organs functioning. This leads to feelings of being weak.

A person may be more likely to fall in these situations. They are less likely to want to engage in activities and prefer remaining in bed. They often lose the ability to complete tasks around the home, so personal hygiene becomes challenging. More so, a person living alone may even develop the inability to feed themselves, making the problem that much worse.

In a nursing home setting, you may notice that your family member no longer engages with others or may not want to go for a walk. They may be too tired to speak to you on the phone or unwilling to have visitors. These are all indications of a change in overall health and well-being.

Number Three: Loss of Appetite

Loss of AppetiteIt may not seem logical, but often, a person who is malnourished is not interested in eating. In fact, either can occur first. Studies have linked a loss of appetite in elderly people to malnutrition. They found a 76 percent increase in the risk of malnutrition if a person loses appetite for any other reason. More so, if a person is malnourished and cannot provide support to prepare food, they cannot do so.

Ultimately, if a person stops eating often, their body does not take in and use food as it should. This can ultimately lead to a worsening of the condition. If a family member is no longer eating, even if they say they are not hungry, their digestive system may not work properly. It may not seem logical, but consider what occurs when the digestive system lacks enough nutrients. This ultimately leads to it not working at all, which means there’s no trigger sent to the brain that it’s time to eat. Ultimately, this becomes a difficult cycle to stop.

Number Four: Swelling and Fluid Accumulation

Sometimes swelling and fluid accumulation occur and hide the weight loss from being obvious. Or, you may believe that a person is eating and gaining weight, but in reality, their body is accumulating fluid instead.

The buildup of fluid in the legs, abdomen, and face indicates edema, often because the heart and lungs are not working properly. It can also mean the kidneys are starting to fail.

These organs all rely on proper nutrition to work. They cannot work properly when they do not receive it, leading to failures. Consider, for example, what occurs when the heart cannot function properly, squeezing enough oxygen-rich blood to move through it to other organs. That means insufficient nutrients and oxygen-rich blood are heading to the brain, kidneys, and other organs. This often leads to fluid buildup.

You may notice this before other symptoms of malnutrition, which can mean multiple health factors are present. Look for signs of abnormal swelling, including socks that create tight rings around the legs or shoes that no longer fit.

Number Five: Eating Less

Some people are malnourished but are still eating. It is not always about the calories going in but the quality of food that a person receives. If they are not getting nutrients, that can lead to a high risk of organ failure itself. Ensuring a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet is crucial to supporting overall health and preventing the complications associated with malnutrition. Regular monitoring by healthcare professionals and appropriate dietary interventions can make a significant difference in maintaining optimal nutrition levels and reducing the risk of organ failure.

Specific concerns are a limited amount of protein and vitamin access. A diet of bland food or high carbs and sugar can create malnutrition in some people. According to the Illinois Department of Aging, one in four adults over 65 will reduce their meal size or skip meals – and when you combine that with a lack of nutrients, the risks of health complications heighten significantly.

If you notice a family member only eating a few bites and then saying they do not want anymore or skipping meals they used to eat, that can indicate they are at risk for malnutrition. They may have various reasons for not eating, such as not feeling well, not liking the food, the food not being to their liking due to a lack of salt or sugar, or simply tossing it away.

Spot the Less Common Signs of Malnutrition

Sometimes, you do not see how much someone eats or cannot tell they have lost weight. Still, being vigilant is critical. Look for other signs that something is not right:

  • Do they no longer wear jewelry because the rings fall off their fingers?
  • They may no longer like certain foods they used to like.
  • Some people feel cold when they do not have healthy nutrient intake due to the body’s difficulty in regulating temperature.
  • They may become ill and struggle to recover or may have a cold that lasts longer than anyone else.
  • They may have a depressed, sad mood, often a sign of cognitive decline brought on by this condition.
  • Some people will drag their feet because they do not have the energy to pick them up or their shoes no longer fit.
  • They may no longer be social or engaging in activities they used to do.
  • It takes a longer time for wounds to heal.

Any time you notice simple changes in a person’s health and well-being, it can indicate a developing health challenge. The sooner you act to discover what is happening, the more opportunity there is to correct the problem. Regular health check-ups, communication with healthcare professionals, and prompt intervention in response to observed changes can contribute to early detection and effective management of health issues. Early identification allows for timely medical interventions, potentially preventing the issue from escalating into a more serious or irreversible condition.

How Can Malnutrition Occur in Nursing Homes

Malnutrition Occur in Nursing HomesIf your family member is in a nursing home, assisted living community, or hospital for long-term care, you may not think they are at risk for developing health complications like malnutrition. A doctor and nurse are there, seeing what is occurring and taking action, right?

This does not always occur. Neglect can occur in a nursing home setting like this in many ways. It can be difficult to spot it initially, but if you notice the signs above, neglect can be serious. Discuss concerns with a nursing home neglect lawyer right away.

Here’s a look further into what can occur.

Lack of access to water and food

There are some situations where the most obvious cause of malnutrition is occurring, even in a care center like this. The location may not give your family easy access to food and water to meet their needs. Are there snacks available? Is the food delivered on a routine schedule – and not late or missing? Communicate with your family members about what they ate day-to-day to monitor this.

Lack of support for eating

Many times, older people need help with eating, especially as they suffer from health decline. This may mean that cutting food or even the movement of holding a fork can be a challenge. Over time, a person may need more help than is provided. If the location is short on staff, for example, that can easily lead to complications with providing patients with enough time to get help for eating.

Even worse, some patients will not communicate that they need that help. Still, nursing staff can spot concerns and take action.

Pain when eating

Some people may develop health complications that heighten the risks of malnutrition. For example, they may develop an ulcer in their stomach, or medications administered to keep them calm may harm their stomach, causing them not to want to eat.

Not being given quality food

The quality of food a person receives in a healthcare setting is critical to consider. If the location provides inferior-quality food that does not meet the nutrient requirements of the people living there, it puts them at risk for health complications and malnutrition. Careful attention to the nutritional needs of individuals in healthcare settings, including providing well-balanced and nutrient-rich meals, is essential to support their overall health and well-being. Implementing dietary standards and regular assessments can ensure that residents receive adequate nutrition, reducing the likelihood of health complications associated with poor-quality food and malnutrition.

If Your Family Member Is At Risk, Seek Help from a Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer Now

If you believe your family member is malnourished, there are two things to do. The first is to get them medical help immediately for their emergent needs. This can prove to be critical in protecting their health and well-being.

The second is to contact a personal injury attorney who can guide you as you uncover why this is happening and determine if negligence is playing a role in the process. Do not assume your family member is having difficulty. Find out why they are not getting the care they need by turning to an attorney.