When Your Loved One Has Lost Weight In the Nursing Home

If you have recently visited your elderly loved one in a nursing home facility, and have noticed that he or she looks a little thinner, consider whether there might be an issue with the amount of nutrition your loved one is receiving at the care facility.  Malnutrition is a major problem in nursing homes, with one in five residents being undernourished.  If your loved one has lost weight, the nursing home should have informed you of the weight loss, and if they did not, it is likely a sign of nursing home abuse or neglect.

Nursing home staff is trained to identify when residents exhibit a change, as well as whether it is a change in weight, behavior, or disposition.  However, due to inadequate numbers of staff at the nursing home, a resident’s condition may go unnoticed for quite some time.

As an initial matter, you as the concerned relative or friend should assess the situation and record your observations. Observations about your loved one that relate to malnutrition might include noting a thinner overall appearance, clothes that appear more baggy or loose, trouble keeping dentures in place, tooth loss or complaint of tooth pain, rapid hair loss or thinning of hair, dry skin, mouth or lips, and any signs of weakness, dehydration, dizziness, or disorientation.

You should also consider whether your loved one has any conditions that may be contributing to his or her appearance.  For example, a terminal illness could cause significant weight loss despite he or she being properly nourished.  Similarly, depression could cause the resident to not be taking in adequate nourishment because of a lack of appetite.

Next, you should address your concerns with the nursing home staff.  When the weight and/or proper nutrition of a resident becomes an issue, the nursing home should develop a care plan specialized to suit the needs of the resident in question.  The care plan should entail a dietary plan that includes a nutritious menu of foods, details of how and when the meals will be prepared and served, and an assignment of which staff member will assist the resident with the meal. A hydration program should also be part of the care plan, which should include a schedule for hydration throughout the day.  If a cognitive social issue is a concern, therapy or other psychological treatment options should be included in the care plan as well.  This care plan should be shared with the resident’s family.

During follow-up visits with your loved one, you should be able to see that the resident has begun to regain weight, and he or she should show signs of improvement. You should monitor his or her progress and ask questions about the care he or she is receiving.  After some success with the new dietary regimen, a follow-up assessment should be conducted to reevaluate the care plan. The care plan should be adjusted if necessary.

However, if after these steps are taken you do not notice an increase in your loved one’s weight, or observe signs of weight loss again in your loved one, it may be time to get assistance from someone outside of the nursing home.  If you believe that someone you love is being subjected to nursing home abuse or neglect, or is suffering for malnourishment, please contact The Rooth Law Firm at (800) 598-4348.

Source:  National Citizen’s Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, Malnutrition and Dehydration Consumer Fact Sheet, October 2006.

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