Malnutrition in Assisted Living Facilities and Group Homes

Malnutrition is common in Maryland assisted living facilities and group homes. Malnutrition can cause a resident’s health to spiral downwards because his or her immune system is handicapped due to insufficient nutrition. Many assisted living facility and group home residents suffer malnutrition and resulting infections and medical conditions due to a lack of proper care by staff and healthcare providers.

More than half of older adults who visit emergency departments are either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition, according to a 2014 study of elderly patients in North Carolina reported by the American College of Emergency Physicians.

  • Half of the elderly found to be malnourished lived in assisted living facilities.
  • Despite apparently clear signs of malnutrition or risk of malnutrition, more than three-quarters of the seniors studied hadn’t been diagnosed with malnutrition in the past.

Lead study author Timothy Platts-Mills, MD, of the University of North Carolina Department of Emergency Medicine in Chapel Hill, N.C., stated researchers were surprised by the levels of malnutrition or risk of it among mentally competent seniors and were more surprised that most malnourished patients had never been told they were malnourished.
Some findings about patients age 65 and older:

  • 16% were malnourished.
  • 60% were malnourished or at risk for malnutrition.
  • 77% of the malnourished patients denied they had been diagnosed with malnutrition in the past.
  • Malnutrition rates were highest among patients who had symptoms of depression (52%), lived in assisted living facilities (50%), had difficulty eating (38%) and those who had a hard time buying groceries (33%).
  • Difficulty with eating was mostly caused by denture problems, dental pain or difficulty swallowing.

Swallowing problems are very common in assisted living facilities and those with these problems are likely to live shorter lives according to a Finnish study published in 2014.
Researchers looked at residents living in the Helsinki area and found the following:

  • 8% of residents suffered from swallowing disorders.
  • Those dealing with them were generally older and more often female.
  • Parkinson’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic or recurrent infections were more common in those with swallowing disorders compared to those without.
  • Stroke and dementia occurred at the same rate for those with and without the problem, but there was more severe cognitive decline among those with swallowing disorders.
  • 6% of those with swallowing disorders were malnourished, while those without the disorder were malnourished 11% of the time.
  • Residents with swallowing disorders drank more fluid, ate puréed food, ate more often but little or quite little of their food portion, and they drank less.
  • 55% of those with swallowing disorders died by the end of the study follow-up, while 41.5% of those without swallowing disorders died in the same time frame.

The study’s conclusion was that swallowing disorders are common and linked with poor nutrition and increased risk of death for patients in assisted living facilities.

Researchers suggested nurses should be trained to assess swallowing disorders and nutritional problems so they can properly care for these residents.

Malnutrition may account for a much greater number of illnesses among elderly Americans than what has been assumed, according to several medical experts on aging interviewed by the New York Times. Studies have shown that many illnesses among the elderly could be prevented through better nutrition, and many may be able to ease the disease burden of old age by better nutrition.

Most scientists see the weakening of the immune system as being caused by growing old, but studies link proper nutrition with better disease resistance; decline of immune systems could be slowed or reversed with better diets. Many of the elderly fall into a spiral of undereating, illness, physical inactivity and depression. Those with serious diseases have the most severe and prevalent malnutrition.

Elderly patients admitted to a hospital with dehydration, infections or mental confusion have these conditions treated, but the underlying problem may be that the person is consuming inadequate calories or protein. Patients fighting diseases have greater protein needs that often go unmet.

Protein malnutrition is prevalent in hospitalized patients, it tends to get worse during their stay and is associated with higher death rates.

High-protein items like meats can be hard to chew, and few of the elderly consume enough dairy products to provide sufficient protein.

Those who are incapacitated often need more diligent and patient assistance with feeding than they actually get, Dr. John W. Rowe, director of the Harvard Medical School’s aging division told The Times. ”I think that many of them are malnourished,” he said. ”It takes a long time to get the necessary calories in. This malnutrition then worsens the effect of the disease that required the feeding assistance in the first place.”

Assisted living facilities and group homes are responsible for the health and well-being of their residents. Part of their responsibility is seeing that residents’ nutritional needs are met, they are properly cared for and they take necessary steps to keep residents as healthy as possible.
Legal liability can result when staff and healthcare professionals act negligently and fail to do the following:

  • Provide the right nutrition
  • Take the time necessary to feed residents
  • Be properly trained to recognize malnutrition and help residents get the nutrition they need
  • Treat medical conditions, dental or denture problems causing eating difficulties
  • Properly manage medications that may suppress appetite
  • Diagnose and treat malnutrition and the infections and diseases that can follow.

If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered infections, medical conditions or died as a result of malnutrition while living at an assisted living facility or group home in Maryland, we can help you address the situation and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. At the Law Offices of Roger S. Weinberg, you’ll find compassionate support and experienced advocates to help your family through the tough times. Call 1-866-529-5839 today to schedule a free consultation.

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