Watch for signs of malnutrition

Instead of asking older adults, “How much did you eat today?” the better question is, “What did you eat today?” The nutritional value and quality of food matters more than quantity, but many older adults don’t notice the imbalance of their meals, notes the American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN).

Plenty of other myths surround malnutrition, including the erroneous belief that all malnutritioned adults are skinny. In many cases, the older adult seems to be eating plenty, but may be eating too much of one food group. Many medications affect the sense of smell and appetite, exacerbating the problem of unbalanced meals.

“The prevalence of malnutrition is deeply concerning. If it was easy to see, it would be easy to diagnose, but, unfortunately, that is not the case,” said Debra BenAvram, FASAE, CAE, the CEO of ASPEN, during Malnutrition Awareness Week. “We recognizes a need for greater awareness of malnutrition and its correlation with unfavorable outcomes such as higher infection rates, poor wound healing, longer lengths of stay, and even death.”

Keep an eye on short-term residents visiting the facility after surgery, too. Malnutritioned residents who are recovering from surgery are four times more likely to develop pressure ulcers, says Peggi Guenter, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Senior Director of Clinical Practice, Quality and Advocacy at ASPEN.

Malnutrition can affect much more than physical energy and strength. The body relies on a well-balanced intake of vitamins, calories, proteins, minerals and water to maintain good balance, clear thinking, memory, healing and other body processes.

For resources to help you identify, treat and code malnutrition, ASPEN offers a free Malnutrition Toolkit.

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