Non-critically ill seniors suffer from malnutrition

Non-critically ill seniors suffer from malnutrition

Malnutrition is threatening seniors, but not because of a lack of health care access, dementia or other illnesses. Yet, according to a new study reviewing data from emergency departments, more than half of those seniors visiting an ER are malnourished or at risk for malnutrition.

The research, published online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, also found that more than three-quarters of patients had never been diagnosed with malnutrition prior to their hospital visit.

“We were surprised by the levels of malnutrition or risk of it among cognitively intact seniors visiting the ER, and even more surprised that most malnourished patients had never been told they were malnourished,” said lead study author Dr. Timothy Platts-Mills of the University of North Carolina Department of Emergency Medicine in Chapel Hill, in a news release. “Given that seniors visit ERs more than 20 million times a year in the U.S., emergency physicians have an opportunity to screen and intervene in ways that may be very helpful without being very costly.”

According to the study, malnutrition is used to describe individuals who lack “adequate calories, protein or other nutrients essential for tissue maintenance and repair.”

Of the 138 patients aged 65 and older the prevalence of malnutrition was not notably different between men and women, different levels of education, or living in urban or rural areas. However, malnutrition was more prevalent among seniors who suffered from depressive symptoms, lived in assisted living facilities and had trouble eating and buying groceries.

Sue Durkin, advanced practice nurse for geriatrics at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., says like children, seniors are a special unit of the population, who are not just older adults as many physiological changes occur during the aging process.

Chronic health conditions, multiple medication use, decreased activity levels, muscle wasting and a complicated process occurs where essential vitamins, minerals, and sometimes calories may be lacking in daily dietary habits,” Durkin says. “Changes in taste over time find an elder eating more processed, sugar laden foods than ever before in younger years. A high sugar diet affects so many areas from blood glucose levels to wound healing; essentially adding more problems that complicates care.”

She added that in recognition of the large percentage of seniors who were visiting the hospital malnourished, Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital began a project aimed at identifying seniors at risk for malnutrition, addressing the needs of those who required help with eating, providing education for nursing and ancillary staff and improving documentation and awareness of the issue among seniors.

“Through a collaborative process we were able to improve our focus of care and made a difference in our patients’ health outcomes,” Durkin says. “Nutrition is an important aspect of care often overlooked by health care providers. A thorough assessment of nutritional habits is important in managing the overall health of seniors.”

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  1. Having an 86-year-old dad, I can see how this could happen. He often complains that food has little taste for him anymore.

  2. My 85-year-old mom has no idea nor interest in learning what constitutes healthy eating. She is all about convenience … which means cereal every morning (honey nut Cheerios or Chex PLUS 2-3tsp of sugar on top!), then lots of little snacky foods during the day and then microwave dinners. When we talk about eating more “fresh” foods – her eyes kind of glaze over like a little kid 😉 I can almost hear the echo of my own voice from childhood coming back to haunt me “oh puh-lease.” I know “threats” didn’t work for me as a kid so I don’t know why I go there LOL, i.e. I know you don’t want to end up in the hospital… Or… you get around pretty well right now, you don’t want to lose that right?, etc. Even when she agrees – she doesn’t necessarily remember and translate it to her next eating experience. And knowing the effects of not eating well are cumulative makes it even more important. This is a REAL challenge, every day.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.