Malnutrition and undernutrition are two of the most frequently occurring forms of nursing home abuse that residents experience, and yet they are the most commonly unrecognized conditions. As so many nursing home residents suffer from cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it can be difficult if not impossible for these residents to keep track of whether or not they have eaten. To better combat malnutrition, nursing home staff needs to be alert to this issue and take steps to prevent malnutrition before it occurs.
Staff education and training to better identify the signs and symptoms of malnutrition. It would serve the residents greatly if nursing staff were to be trained to identify residents who are having difficulty eating on their own. Picking up on visual cues and clues is crucial to successfully prevent malnutrition since there are many reasons why a resident may not directly express their need for such assistance. The resident may be in pain or have trouble swallowing and may not want to bring attention to his or her difficulties. Similarly, the resident may have poor motor control, and thus may have difficulty lifting cutlery to his or her mouth. A resident could be embarrassed about his or her diminishing ability to feed him or herself and may rather not eat than draw attention to him or herself. Staff should be trained to recognize residents who are exhibiting any sort of lack of enthusiasm for eating and should ask the resident what the problem is.
Staff needs to keep track of which residents eat, when they eat, and how much food they consume. Tracking what each resident eats, the frequency of eating, and assessing how much the resident eats of each meal can go a long way towards preventing malnutrition. A computer could be used to keep track of this type of information, and could also be used to identify any changes in a resident’s diet based on previously recorded data.
Staff must provide assistance to residents who need help with eating. Federal law, codified as the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, requires that each nursing home resident shall be provided with adequate nutrition to maintain acceptable body weight unless a medical condition would make maintaining an acceptable body weight impossible. This law places a responsibility on nursing home staff to provide residents with physical assistance when eating if the residents require such assistance. This could include cutting up food for the resident, providing special cutlery, dishware, or straws, or preparing a meal in a liquid form for easier consumption.
Staff should conduct regular nutrition assessments. Conducting regularly scheduled nutrition assessments will help identify any nutrition problems early. The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 requires nursing home staff to perform such assessments upon the resident’s arrival at the nursing home, and every three months thereafter. Nursing staff should adhere to this protocol and carefully note if there are any significant changes or worrisome trends.
Contacting a Malnutrition Attorney
If you are concerned that your loved one is not receiving adequate nutrition at the nursing home or you are concerned that nursing staff is not providing adequate care to prevent malnutrition from occurring, please reach out to the Rooth Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Law Firm online or by calling (800) 598-4348.