What is Protein-Energy Malnutrition?
Many people think that malnutrition is simply not getting enough food to eat. However, there are actually many different types of malnutrition, such as protein deficiency, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Specifically, protein-energy, or protein-calorie, malnutrition refers to situations in which an individual does not consume enough protein and/or calories to sustain the body. There are two main types of protein-energy malnutrition that lie on a spectrum with one another, namely marasmus, which is the consumption of too few calories to remain healthy, and kwashiorkor, which is the consumption of too little protein to properly maintain essential body functions. Usually, when a person is malnourished, he or she presents symptoms that are somewhere between the marasmus and the kwashiorkor type of malnutrition.
Marasmus malnutrition is effectively the wasting away of a person. A person having this type of malnutrition generally appears emaciated due to a reduction in body weight because the muscle and other tissues waste away. Marasmus malnutrition occurs because there is a lack of all nutrients; it is basically the byproduct of starvation.
When a person does not consume enough protein, he or she can develop kwashiorkor malnutrition. It is an extreme form of malnutrition that is characterized by anorexia, edema, and ulcerating dermatoses. Cases of kwashiorkor malnutrition in the United States are very rare but do happen – mostly in small children.
However, as mentioned above, most cases of protein-energy malnutrition are some intermediate between healthy and malnutrition. Kwashiorkor and marasmus are extreme cases of malnutrition that usually result in death, even if treatment is begun because the body is too far gone to recover. Many cases of malnutrition found in nursing homes in the United States are discovered well before the resident dies. Malnutrition is a sign of nursing home abuse and neglect. Those responsible should be held accountable.
Restricted Diets Can Promote Malnutrition
Sometimes elderly individuals are placed onto restrictive diets for one reason or another. The individual’s doctor may have prescribed a restrictive diet to help combat some sort of health issue, such as to aid in weight control or promote heart health. This can lead to the resident being prescribed a salt-free diet, slimming diet, or a diabetic or cholesterol-reducing diet. While the intention of these diets is for the good of the resident, the change can impact the nutrients that he or she is getting. For example, changing the resident’s diet may not be in alignment with what the resident wants to eat. The resident may refuse food altogether rather than succumb to the food he or she finds not pleasurable to eat.
A good, hypothetical illustration of how a protein-energy deficiency could occur would be if a male resident who has been a steak-and-potatoes kind of man his whole life suddenly has a heart attack. He survives but is instructed by his doctor to change his diet or suffer the consequences. He is placed on a low-cholesterol diet, which consists of more green leafy vegetables than the man is used to. Two things play into this man developing a protein deficiency. First, he has had a high-protein diet most of his life. He will need to be weaned down to a lower, but safe level of protein in his diet. His body is used to processing a lot of protein, so greatly reducing the amount in his diet suddenly is not good for his body. Second, if the man does not like green, leafy vegetables, and is not used to eating them, he is likely to eat less of them.
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.