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44% of assisted living residents visiting EDs have malnutrition: study

August 21, 2014
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Forty-four percent of older adults who live in assisted living communities and visit emergency departments (EDs) exhibit signs of malnutrition, according to a study recently published in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

“The number is very high and raises an obvious concern about [residents] in assisted living,” lead study author Timothy Platts-Mills, MD, tells Long-Term Living. The study did not include all assisted living residents, he emphasizes; it was limited to those who visited EDs.

More than half of all older adults who visit EDs, regardless of where they live, are either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition, Platts-Mills and colleagues found. Also, despite clear signs of malnutrition or risk of malnutrition, more than three-fourths of them never previously had received a diagnosis of malnutrition.

“We were surprised by the levels of malnutrition or risk of it among cognitively intact seniors visiting the [ED] and even more surprised that most malnourished patients had never been told they were malnourished,” says Platts-Mills, of the emergency medicine department of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

The culprit is not poor access to healthcare, critical illness or dementia, Platts-Mills says. Rather, the leading contributors appear to be depression, dental issues such as dental pain or denture problems, and difficulty in buying groceries. Swallowing issues also were a contributor.

“For patients who report difficulty buying groceries, [the] Supplemental Nutrition Program, Meals on Wheels, Congregate Meals Programs or community-based food charities can be helpful, although other factors may also need to be addressed,” he says. Oral nutritional supplementation also may help by accelerating recovery from illness and reducing readmissions, Platts-Mills adds.