MALNUTRITION IN NURSING HOMES: TOO COMMON FOR COMFORT
What is malnutrition? Wikipedia defines “malnutrition” as the insufficient, excessive or imbalanced consumption of nutrients. Other sources state that malnutrition is a condition which results from an inadequate or unbalanced diet, digestive difficulties, absorption problems, or other medical conditions.
Whatever the definition…it is not a good thing and is particularly problematic for the elderly in nursing homes. How prevalent is malnutrition in nursing homes? A 2000 study from the Commonwealth Fund found that, depending on the subgroup, between 35% and 85% of nursing home residents can be considered malnourished…a shockingly high percentage.
What are some of the symptoms of malnutrition?
1. Mouth – The mouth can hold very clear signs of malnutrition in an elderly person. According to a Huntington’s disease website, taste buds that are normally visible will disappear. An elderly person’s mouth might become bright red and canker sores may appear. Signs of thrush or a yeast infection of the mouth may also become evident in white patches that develop on the tongue or cheeks.
2. Muscles – An elderly malnourished person’s muscles may start to become flaccid. This is caused by the body using the stored energy and nutrients in the muscles to try to make up for the loss of nutrients that are normally fed to the body through eating. Minor physical activities become exhausting.
3. Eyes – A resident suffering from malnutrition may have red, inflamed or glassy eyes. The tissue in the eyes may actually thicken, and the person may experience swelling in the cornea. The elderly person’s vision may also worsen.
4. Cognition/Thinking – We become listless and disinterested without the proper food to sustain and fuel our bodies. Normal daily tasks may be pushed aside. An elderly person suffering from malnutrition may be unable to answer simple questions about himself/herself.
5. Skin – Many elderly people have a yellowing of the skin as they become increasingly malnourished. Darker- skinned individuals with have a dull look to their skin. The skin may become increasingly dry and wrinkled looking.