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Proper Nutrition Required for the Elderly

By Maureen Kroll, RN, MN, JD

Nutritional well-being is an important part of remaining healthy as one ages. Improper nutrition can result in a variety of diseases, and can lead to weakened muscles that result in falls, hip fractures, pressure ulcers, and forms of infection.

When a resident is in a nursing home, he or she can be susceptible to the problems of malnutrition. Congress has recognized the importance of proper nutrition for the elderly, and there is a provision in the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 that requires nursing homes to have a policy that directs the staff to assess residents for nutritional status.

They must do this at the time of admission to a nursing home, and every three months thereafter.

Even though the Act has been created to enforce this provision, the nursing homes may take definite measures to ensure that their residents receive proper nutrition. It is still estimated that a large percentage of nursing home residents may be malnourished.

Certainly, many are related to just the type of illnesses that a resident may have. Also, they may have a negative interaction between the drugs they are taking and the food they eat. They may also have some adverse drug effects that could impact their ability to eat properly, such as nausea, vomiting, indigestion, etc.

If a nursing home resident is depressed, that can also lead to a lack of interest in proper nutrition, and swelling disorders, problems with dentures, and tremors can be significant factors in one’s ability to eat properly.

In addition, the food may not be what the resident is used to. Cultural differences in the types of food that residents receive sometimes mean that food residents have been exposed to all their lives may not be part of the nursing home menu.

Low fat, low salt, or some other sort of restrictive diet may cause the food to taste differently than home cooked meals they are used to, and may lead to a lack of interest in the type of food they are receiving.

When you visit a loved one in a nursing home, to assess if they may be experiencing malnutrition, observe the following: have their clothes been fitting more loosely? Are their lips cracked? What is the coloring of their skin? Do they have cracks around their mouths? What is the condition of a person’s gums and teeth? Do they have sores in their mouths? Does their skin appear to be taut and shiny, or loose with the loss of elasticity? Does the skin appear drier than usual? Does it appear that the person’s eyes are sunken in?

If you have assessed one of more of these signs, you should get involved with the nursing home by talking to the person who is in charge, such as the dietician or whomever deals with the nutritional status of the residents.

Secondly, you should ask for a care planning conference right away to discuss your concerns about appearance or loss of appetite. Continue to monitor the situation so that you can continue to make an assessment of that person’s progress regarding improvements in their nutritional status.

Finally, if you have tried to get help for your loved one and no one is responding to you in the facility and problems continue to exist, contact the local office on aging for the name and number of the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program nearest you. These ombudsmen are empowered by law to serve as advocates for nursing home residents, and can assist you with any complaints or problems.

Service Area

Attorney Maureen Kroll provides services in Westmoreland County, PA, including the communities of Greensburg, Irwin, Jeannette, Ligonier, Mt. Pleasant, North Huntingdon, Latrobe, and Scottdale.


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