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Quality indicator – unplanned weight loss

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Unplanned weight loss happens when someone loses a significant amount of weight, without deliberately being on a weight loss plan. Older people are at risk of unplanned weight loss and malnutrition, especially those living in aged care homes (sometimes known as nursing homes).

Why is unplanned weight loss used as a quality indicator?

If you are living in an aged care home, eating well and drinking enough water is very important for your health and wellbeing. If you have a healthy nutritious diet, unplanned weight loss might mean you have a more serious health issue.

Many things can have an impact on unplanned weight loss, such as the quality of the food and support for people who have difficulty eating.

Aged care homes should consider the quality and taste of food, and also whether a special diet is needed. Staff should be trained to help people with their meals, with taking medication and with looking after their teeth.

Monitoring unplanned weight loss gives aged care homes useful information about how their processes are working and can highlight areas that might need improvement.

What is the impact of unplanned weight loss?

Unplanned weight loss is likely to lower your general wellbeing and quality of life. It can also increase your risk of serious health issues such as hip fracture, poor wound healing and malnutrition.

What are some of the risk factors for unplanned weight loss?

Sometimes your sense of taste and smell can decrease as you age. Problems with eyesight and digestion can also mean you are more likely to lose weight.

Unplanned weight loss is more likely to happen to older people with:

  • dementia
  • swallowing difficulties
  • poor dental health
  • chronic disease
  • depression
  • pain
  • the need to take multiple medicines.

How is unplanned weight loss treated?

If you do lose weight when you're not expecting to, you should be referred to a doctor who can look into what may be causing it. The aged care home should also:

  • discuss your diet with you or your representative
  • make sure you see a dentist, dietitian or speech pathologist if you need to.

Some useful ways to treat unplanned weight loss include:

  • serving smaller meals more often
  • providing finger foods
  • taking nutritional supplements
  • discussing foods you like and don't like
  • providing a relaxed and sociable dining environment.

How can unplanned weight loss be prevented?

Aged care homes must monitor your weight to pick up any changes as early as possible so that they can help address any issues.

Areas the aged care home can focus on include:

  • encouraging people to eat well by providing tasty, nutritious food at the right temperature
  • providing pleasant surroundings in which to eat with enough trained staff to help people who need it
  • making sure dental health, swallowing and special dietary needs are addressed by dentists, speech pathologists and dietitians
  • reviewing medicines and medical conditions and checking for any possible side effects
  • giving residents choices, such as what they would like to eat
  • getting enough exercise and time spent outdoors to encourage a healthy appetite
  • providing nutritious snacks and plenty of water at all times not just at set meal times
  • encouraging visitors to bring and eat meals at the aged care home.

Questions to ask an aged care home about unplanned weight loss

You might like to ask your aged care home some of these questions:

  • What are you doing to make sure people are a healthy weight?
  • What choices are there for meals?
  • What do you do if people lose weight unexpectedly?
  • Do staff make sure people have enough to eat, and drink enough water?
  • Do you have enough staff to help people eat their meals?
  • What are you doing to improve in this area?

Last reviewed: 10 December, 2016.