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Malnutrition is a condition that can affect people of all ages. In this article, we define the term “malnutrition” and explain how it relates to nursing home abuse.

Key Takeaways

  • Malnutrition is a condition in which the body is deprived of the nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and function
  • There are four types of malnutrition: macronutrient undernutrition, micronutrient undernutrition, macronutrient overnutrition, and micronutrient overnutrition
  • Symptoms of undernutrition include weakness, low body temperature, low body weight, and more
  • Symptoms of overnutrition include obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, and high blood pressure
  • Risk factors of undernutrition include age, illness, and income
  • Risk factors of overnutrition include income and lifestyle
  • Nursing homes have a duty to prevent malnutrition in their residents

What Is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition is the result of the body not getting the nutrients it needs in the correct amounts to maintain its tissues and function. 

Types of Malnutrition

There are four types of malnutrition.

  1. Macronutrient undernutrition - A deficiency of proteins, carbohydrates, and/or fats
  2. Micronutrient undernutrition  - A deficiency in vitamins and/or minerals 
  3. Macronutrient overnutrition - An excess of protein, carbohydrates, and/or fat that the body stores in fat cells, which can lead to metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, and stroke
  4. Micronutrient overnutrition - An excess of vitamins and minerals, which is uncommon and usually requires supplementation 

Symptoms of Malnutrition

Signs and symptoms of undernutrition include:

  • Irritability, apathy, or inattention
  • Weakness, faintness, and fatigue
  • Frequent and severe infections
  • Low body temperature
  • Low body weight, prominent bones, and depleted fat and muscle
  • Thin arms and legs with edema in the belly and face
  • Brittle hair, hair loss, and hair pigment loss
  • Stunted growth and intellectual development in children
  • Dry, inelastic skin, rashes, and lesions
  • Low heart rate and blood pressure

Signs and symptoms of overnutrition include:

  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure

Risk Factors of Malnutrition

The following factors increase a person’s risk of undernutrition:

  • Age - Children have greater nutritional needs than adults in order to grow and develop. Older age may also decrease appetite and reduce the absorption of nutrients. 
  • Illness - Many chronic illnesses affect appetite, calorie absorption, and caloric needs
  • Income - Poorer communities have less access to adequate nutrition

The following factors increase the risk of overnutrition:

  • Income - Poorer communities often have easier access to unhealthy foods than the nutritious foods
  • Lifestyle - Sedentary lifestyles can lead to low metabolism 

Malnutrition and Nursing Home Abuse

One common effect of nursing home abuse is malnutrition. Nursing homes have a duty to keep their patients healthy, including providing them with enough healthy food. However, malnutrition will not only happen if nursing homes do not feed staff enough. It can also be the result of multiple other issues, including: 

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

Nursing home staff must be aware of these risks, monitoring residents for signs of malnutrition and responding accordingly. However, if a nursing home is understaffed or the staff members are intentionally or unintentionally neglectful, they may fail to meet this duty. 

If you or a loved one experienced malnutrition as a result of neglect in a nursing home, you should contact the relevant authorities. It is also recommended that you speak to a nursing home abuse attorney for a review of your case.

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