The dangers of being malnourished

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) When a patient goes to the hospital, the first thing on their mind is probably not their nutritional status. But for dietitians at, Manhattan’s Via Christi, checking for malnutrition is a top priority.

Almaz Rufael, the TouchPoint clinical nutrition manager at Via Christi said 13 percent of their patients actually are malnourished. The national average is 20-50 percent of adults are malnourished.

“We tend to see older adults that tend to come in, who have been avoiding food, aren’t’ feeling well, don’t have a good appetite. When you sit and ask them what they ate, they skip meals.”

Dieticians say skipping meals is not an option for individuals in danger of being malnourished.

“Nutrition is very important today. Even if you don’t feel like eating today you regiment like medications.  You can’t skip it. When you don’t get nutrition your body can not sustain. And little by little, you lose all of your nutrients.  So you can easily get sick and you can’t recover. Your immune system (gets) low.”

To identify a malnourished individual, TouchPoint Support Services implemented a new physical assessment for patients when they arrive at Via Christi Hospital.

“I start usually looking at their face, around their eyes. There’s muscles in our face, there’s fat in our face.  So those are going to be some key indicators. And then I just work my way down. I look at the shoulders.  We look at the collar bones, the back, the ribs, the arms, all the way down to the legs. And that’s to look for protein loss for muscle. We look for fat loss,” said Britney Cowan, a clinical dietician.

TouchPoint nutritionists typically conduct around ten physical assessments a day, and are looking out for both macro and micro nutrient deficiencies.

“From the physical assessment, the things that are going to stand out the most are muscle depletion or fat depletion. So calories in general are often lacking, and most importantly protein is often lacking especially in older adults.

Cowan said you almost always see micronutrient deficiencies, because of the sheer fact that they’re not eating enough.

“They aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. They aren’t eating enough dairy products, and they aren’t supplementing with anything.  So the macronutrients like the protein and the fat are the easiest to see, but the micronutrients are there as well, they’re just a little harder to observe.”

Malnourished patients are immediately put on supplements, to use while in and out of the hospital. People who live alone tend to be at a higher risk of being malnourished. For those who don’t live alone, weight loss may go unnoticed by family members who see them all the time. If you’re concerned a loved one could be malnourished, seek out medical care as soon as possible.

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