Weight Loss: Underlying Factors Among the Elderly

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posted by Ryan Whittington on April 29, 2011

John, age 85, is receiving home care after a recent fall and fracture of the hip. Over the last year since his wifes death, he has experienced a large weight loss.  Johns doctor feels that the weigh loss contributed towards his fall and something needs to be done.  John admits to not having the appetite he used to when his wife was alive, "She used to make me a snack every night before bed.  I always knew that she cared."

To encourage John to eat, the home care staff created a plan of care that included nutritional shakes and snacks in the evening in an attempt to make things seem more "normal" for John.  Eventually John did gain weight and overall strength.

This example shows how collaboration between a physician who cares and home health aides with a proper plan of care, can dramatically increase a persons quality of life and health.

Why Malnutrition is a Big Deal

Weight loss is common among those recovering from illness or injury and the problem becomes much worse when dealing with the elderly.  Nearly half of all elderly in the hospital or long term care facility have experienced malnutrition.

Unintentional weight loss can lead to problems such as disease and infection through ulcers, as well as overall loss of muscle mass which can lead to falls and balance issues.

Reasons a person my not eat properly:

  1. Depression - Treatment normally results in increased appetite.
  2. Dementia - Simply forgetting to eat.
  3. Dental Problems - Tooth issues and denture problems lead to discomfort and pain.
  4. Medications - Several medications can lead to decreased appetite.

What Can Be Done To Help?

A person who has experienced an injury or is recovering from an illness will greatly benefit from regular monitoring and interaction with family or a professional agency.  A general rule is to document everything.  Weight, type of food being eaten and frequency of meals is very important.

Regular weighing can help catch a weight loss problem before it becomes extreme.  Be sure to document the weight records and make them available to a physician or doctor at visits.  If weight loss is observed, notify the physician or home health company immediately.

They type of food being eaten is important.  Well rounded meals or snacks are important.  If a person is eating snacks and meals high in fat or salt, this can be equally detrimental.  Consult a physician or dietitian for a comprehensive diet to follow based on your situation.  Following a meal or snack, document exactly what has been eaten, not what was on the plate.  It is important to document this at the time.  Most times when trying to recollect what was eaten at a later time, we overestimate on calories and overall consumption.  This can lead to a false sense of the facts.

If you observe that a person is having difficulty chewing or seems to be in pain, as them when was the last time they saw a dentist.  This may be a sign of infection in the mouth or dentures which are not fitting properly.

Following the guidelines above can help reduce the amount of unintentional weight loss a person experiences.

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