What you can do to prevent your loved one from having an unintended weight loss in a nursing home

Severe nutritional problems are common in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  Elderly residents of a nursing home with unintended weight loss are at risk for muscle atrophy, depression, infection and and an increased rate of disease complications.  A study shows that elderly residents who lose more than five percent of their body weight in one month are four times more likely to die within a year.

What are the most common causes of unintended weight loss of a nursing home resident?

Elderly residents of a nursing home are far more likely to experience unintended weight loss than persons of the same age residing at home.  The answer can often be found in their less than perfect mental and physical condition.  For example, an elderly resident of a nursing home with dementia is dependent on his caregivers for daily care and may forget to eat meals due to confusion and his/her altered mental state.  This resident may be easily distracted by stimuli in the dining room--a noisy dining room is an easy distraction for a resident with dementia.

Your loved one may be taking medications that reduce their appetite.  For example, a complete review of the resident's medications may show that he/she is suffering from polypharmacy, which is known to interfere with taste and can lead to anorexia.

There may be a medical cause of the unintended weight loss.  For example, the resident may be suffering from depression, cancer (gastrointestinal malignancies), or a cardiac disorder that may disrupt their appetite.  Since elderly residents are at higher risk for many forms of cancer, the caregivers should assess whether a medical condition is at the root of the unintended weight loss.

Depression is another common cause of unintended weight loss.  Elderly nursing home residents may feel detached and isolated due to the death of their spouse and this can contribute to depression and anxiety.  Depressed residents often do not eat well, thus leading to their weight loss.

What you can do to prevent your family member's unintended weight loss

A great place to start is a nutritional assessment.  Every nursing home should have a nutritionist on staff who can review your loved one's caloric intake and if necessary, remove dietary restrictions to increase calories.  The nutritional assessment should be performed in order to evaluate the need for nutritional supplements, the adequacy of the resident's diet and the resident's daily caloric intake.

An immediate intervention is to remove dietary restrictions (i.e., restrictions on salt intake or high cholesterol foods).  The food service manager at the nursing home can offer individualized suggestions for increasing food intake.

Physical exercise and physical therapy should be encouraged because increased activity promotes appetite and food intake.  Nutritional supplementals combined with physical activity will increase caloric intake. 

Many elderly residents have lost teeth and have difficulty chewing food and swallowing.  A speech therapist should be consulted, in those cases, to evaluate your loved one's ability to swallow.  The unintended weight loss can be caused by a swallowing disorder or missing teeth.

The contributions of a nutritionist, speech therapists, food service managers and social service personnel are huge in the treatment of unintended weight loss.

What you can do if you have questions

If you have questions or want to speak with me, I welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell phone at 866-889-6882.  If you would like more information about nursing home issues, you can request my free book on the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.