Malnutrition – Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

Malnutrition is often seen in our elderly population and can lead to significant changes in independence.  Here are some of the signs and symptoms that you should look for, so that you can help your loved one get help.

Signs and Symptoms of malnutrition

  • Weight Loss
  • Reduced Energy Levels
  • Increased Confusion
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Falls

What happens when you are malnourished?

Your body will take nourishment from whatever reserves we provide it.  Whether it’s the meals we eat, fat reserves or muscle, your vital organs will take priority to survive.  After the “reserves” are depleted, the heart, lungs and other vital organs may shut down.

What is considered severe malnutrition?

2% weight loss in one week with less than 50% caloric intake meets criteria for severe malnutrition.  Simplified, it means 2 pounds weight loss for every 100 pounds and 1-2 meals per day intake.  How many elderly friends and family tell you “I eat breakfast and may snack for lunch, but I’m too full for dinner”?   

Why do some people stop eating?

Eating seems so automatic, but is it!?  It is like a car, you fill the tank, and then the gas sits there until you use the car.  You do not have to refill the tank if you never drive!

If all you do is wake and watch TV, you may not feel hungry.  Your body still needs the nutrition to survive, but that basic instinct diminishes when you become more sedentary. 

Medication can also change our appetite.  Some medicines leave a “bad taste in your mouth.”  This combined with changes in taste buds over time can make food less appetizing. 

Therapy and Methods of Treating Malnutrition

What can family members and caregivers do when they see these changes happening? 

Prepare some easy meals and keep them in the fridge/freezer.  Look into community supports that can prepare a meal or two each day and provide some social interaction.  Change the presentation of food.  Sometimes giving more options can be overwhelming.  Provide smaller meals more often. 

Be present to help with bathroom needs initially.  Some fear drinking more fluids because they will have to use the restroom more often.  They worry about incontinence and becoming more of a burden on their family.  Provide opportunities every 2 hours if possible, to build continence and confidence.  Therapy can also help to build pelvic muscles for improved urinary continence. 

Promote activity involvement.  When you move, you keep joints flexible and strong.  Therapy can help you move safely and securely in your home.  Fear of falls is real and never goes away.  Providing a safe environment to build confidence I your body again is key to returning to independence.

The Anderson Nursing & Rehabilitation strongly believes that you deserve to be in your home as long as it is safely possible. Short Term Rehabilitation is the primary reason people come to The Anderson. We thrive on helping you recover and getting you back home and to normal life, as quickly as possible.

Nicole Martin OTR/L is a Licensed and Registered Occupational Therapist, and Director of the Therapy Department, at The Anderson Nursing & Rehabilitation Facility. Her passion and desire to help people recover from injuries started at a young age, and she now has 20 years of experience. Nicole has worked with clients ages 6 months to 106 years, in acute care facilities, short term inpatient rehab, home health care and skilled nursing facilities.

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