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What every CNA Needs to Know about Malnutrition

Our bodies will start to break down if it does not get the type and amount of fuel it needs. It can be caused by not getting enough nutritious foods or by not adequately digesting and absorbing nutrients from the food we eat. Certified Nursing Assistants need to be watchful of residents who may experiences one or more of the following that might lead down the path of malnutrition:

  • Doesn’t eat from the major food groups most of the time
  • Eats less than half of two or more meals a day
  • Eats less than one hot meal a day
  • Changes from solid foods to pureed foods, or makes other dietary changes
  • Is socially isolated or depressed and subsequently does not eat

Sometime the person in our care may have physical, emotional or medical conditions that can cause them a lose of desire to eat.  If the resident in your care has trouble eating, Certified Nursing Assistants ask the following:

  • Has the resident be given a new medication that could affect their appetite?
  • Does the resident have loose fitting dentures, mouth discomfort, sore teeth or gums?
  • Is the resident sick with other illnesses such as the flu or a cold?
  • Are they suffering mental confusion or memory loss that makes using utensils difficult?
  • Have their bowels been regular?

Residents who are ill or elderly have different food requirements than those who are young and healthy.  Those who are sick and the elderly are more likely to suffer harm from not eating the right kinds of foods.  When we age there are chemical and physical changes that occur in the body that can affect our nutritional needs. Our metabolic rate (metabolism), which is the speed at which the body uses energy, slows down.  Our calorie need decreases, however our need for nutrition doesn’t.

Nutrition-affecting changes that occur with age may include:

  • Lean tissue and muscle mass decrease
  • Less bone mass
  • Body fat increases
  • Stomach acid may decrease and the stomach might not empty as fast. The intestine may absorb less nutrition from food.
  • Tooth and gum problems increase, sometimes making it difficult to chew
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Being too weak or tired to eat
  • Appetite and thirst decrease
  • Medications can also affect appetite or thirst
  • Many diseases also affect the way the body uses food or water. Someone with an illness usually needs more food and water because the body needs energy to heal

The elderly population is greater than ever, and with it, the prevalence of malnutrition. Despite significant medical advances, under nutrition remains a significant and highly prevalent public health problem of developed countries.