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Malnutrition in nursing home residents is common and could be a sign of neglect and not providing a basic standard of care.

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Nursing Home Malnutrition Explained

Nursing home neglect is when a resident of a nursing facility is not fully cared for and is the most common type of abuse in nursing facilities.

Nursing home neglect comes in many forms and usually falls under 4 main categories:

  1. Medical Neglect
  2. Neglect of Basic Needs
  3. Neglect of Personal Hygiene
  4. Social or Emotional Neglect

Nursing home neglect happens when facilities are understaffed or fail to help residents meet the needs of self-care. It’s a direct result of the staff failing to provide basic care to residents. This happens when a facility is understaffed or underqualified.

Signs of nursing home neglect can include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Falls
  • Bed sores
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Failing to make and keep friends
  • Bad personal hygiene

Safety concerns like slippery floors, unsafe wheelchairs or walkers, bad lighting and unsafe furniture are also signs that a facility isn’t providing an adequate standard of care.

What Is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition is defined as getting too much or too little nutrients for basic levels of health. As demographics shift and the number of elderly increases, so does the number of cases of malnutrition in nursing home facilities.

Did You Know

Up to 85% of elderly living in the nursing home environment suffer from malnutrition.

One study showed that of those diagnosed with malnutrition, or at risk for malnutrition, only 19% were recognized by professionals as malnourished and only 7% of those diagnosed were referred to a dietician.

Malnutrition is not as straightforward as it may seem. Beyond a lack of nutrients, malnutrition can occur for four main contributing reasons:

  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Socioeconomic
  4. Neglect

Physical Malnutrition

Malnutrition may be attributed to a physical health concern that prevents the resident from being able to eat regularly.

Physical health issues that can lead to malnutrition include:

  • Dental issues
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Medications that interfere with nutrient absorption
  • Recent hospitalizations
  • Diminished taste or smell
  • Abdominal issues like pain or bloating

One common health concern that results in malnutrition is dental issues, which can result in trouble eating or a decreased appetite. Even dietary restrictions like limiting salt or sugar can cause inadequate eating because food no longer tastes as good.

Mental Malnutrition

Malnutrition as a result of mental health concerns like depression or dementia is also common. Dementia affects the ability to perform daily tasks like food selection and preparation.

Did You Know

In one study, 86% of nursing home residents with advanced dementia had eating problems.

Depression is also a mental health concern that can lead to malnutrition. Depression can occur for a variety of reasons like the loss of a friend or loved one, lack of proper nutrition and even medicines used to treat depression can lead to a lack of appetite, leading to further malnutrition.

Socioeconomic Malnutrition

Malnutrition can also occur as a result of economic and social issues like income, social isolation and a general lack of interest in eating or cooking. Unfortunately, older adults often have to make a choice between spending their limited income on housing, medication or food. Often, when elderly people purchase food, it’s usually less expensive and often has low nutritional value.

Malnutrition from social isolation can occur when older adults eat alone frequently or do not have visitors during meals. Isolation at meals can lead to further isolation in avoiding activities with family, friends or other residents at the facility.

Malnutrition due to a loss of interest in eating or cooking can also occur in nursing homes. This loss of interest can be due to medication side effects, grief, food that lacks flavor because of dietary restrictions or a lack of mobility.

Neglectful Malnutrition

Malnutrition as a result of neglect happens when staff or caretakers do not offer enough food or do not monitor proper nutrient consumption.

When it comes to malnutrition, it is important to know that nurses and staff are equipped with screening tools. It’s your right to view nutritional evaluations performed by nurses or staff. If you or a loved believes malnutrition is occurring, please complete a free case review.

Effects of Malnutrition

Malnutrition in nursing home residents can have immediate and long-term devastating effects on elderly people. Not only does malnutrition affect physical health, but it can affect emotional and mental health as well.

Malnutrition can result in physical issues such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dental deterioration
  • Yellowing skin
  • White fingernails
  • Bed sores

Malnutrition can have long-term effects on quality of life, proper organ function and can even result in death.

Malnutrition can also result in mental issues like depression. Long-term effects of depression can result in further malnutrition and an unwillingness to participate in physical activities which leads to muscle deterioration.

Potential Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition

It’s important to be aware of the signs of malnutrition. Discovering malnutrition early can help stop adverse effects that occur as a result of long-term malnutrition. The first and easiest way to watch for signs of malnutrition is to observe eating habits. By taking the time to have a meal with your loved one you can see what type of foods they are eating and in what amounts.

Some common signs to look for are mouth issues like:

  • Canker sores or thrush
  • Red or glassy eyes
  • Difficulty thinking or communication thoughts and feelings
  • Fatigue
  • Yellow skin
  • White fingernails
  • Heavy wrinkles

A few ways to help battle malnutrition in nursing home residents and facilities is to stay aware. Maintain regular conversations with the doctor, plan for snacks between meals, consider a supplement, encourage regular physical activity, provide tips on where to save money when buying food and make meals family time or social time. By staying proactive you significantly reduce the risk of you or a loved one suffering from malnutrition.

If you believe you or a loved one is suffering from malnutrition as a result of neglect, please contact us immediately for a case review.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team
Julie Rivers HeadshotReviewed by:Julie Rivers, MBA

Eldercare Advocate & Expert

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Julie Rivers is an eldercare advocate with over 15 years of dedicated service to victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Her journey in this field became deeply personal when she assumed the role of an unpaid caregiver during her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

“The Influence of Protein-Calorie Malnutrition on Quality of Life in Nursing Homes”. Journals of Gerontology. Retrieved from: Accessed on September 25, 2018.

“Malnutrition in the Elderly: An Unrecognized Health Issue”. Journal of Nursing. Retrieved from: Accessed on September 25, 2018.

“Malnutrition in Older Adults”. American Journal of Nursing. Retrieved from: Accessed on September 25, 2018.