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Why Malnutrition Goes Unnoticed

Posted On June 28, 2016

Nursing home residents face a high risk of malnutrition, but this often goes unnoticed by caretakers, medical professionals and family members.

Malnutrition is a serious concern for nursing home residents, and it often goes unnoticed until it causes significant harm. While nutrition screening is required upon admission to a medical facility or nursing home, no standardized tool is used, so information regarding a patient’s nutritional state often never makes it into their medical file.

The prevalence of malnutrition varies, with some studies reporting malnutrition rates as high as 67% of the total nursing home population. Malnutrition is cited as one of the most common medical issues facing nursing home residents, despite the fact that it’s one of the least noticed.
“Many nursing home residents are dealing with chronic illnesses,” says Chicago nursing home abuse lawyer Neil B. Strom. “The symptoms of these conditions can mimic the signs of malnutrition.”

This is one of the main reasons that malnutrition does not capture the attention of medical professionals. Because a chronic disease itself can require specific nutritional needs, the problem is easily compounded. Restrictive diets can be hard to follow and some simply fail to eat, rather than comply with a diet that they find unpalatable. Dental problems and reduction of appetite due to medications are also well-known causes of malnutrition.

Malnutrition can remain unnoticed for some time. When caretakers do not closely monitor patients and assist them during mealtimes, they may not get enough to eat. Communication issues can keep nursing home residents from letting medical staff know that they are hungry or not feeling well. Still others are afraid or ashamed to ask for help, making the problem worse. Malnutrition happens slowly, so if nursing home staff are not diligent about assessing changes in a resident’s health, the issue may become a severe health crisis before anything significant is done to improve it.

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