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Failure To Thrive In An Older Adult


Failure to thrive (FTT) happens when an older adult does not seem interested in other people, activities, or eating and drinking. Older adults are at risk for infections, hip fractures, and bed sores. FTT can make these conditions worse, and they may become life-threatening.



  • Medicines may be given to improve appetite and mood.
  • Give the patient's medicine as directed. Call the patient's primary healthcare provider (PHP) if you think the medicine is not helping or if the patient has side effects. Tell the PHP if the patient is allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs the patient takes. Include the amounts, and when and why he takes them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits.

Follow up with the patient's PHP or specialist as directed:

The patient may be referred to a social worker, mental health specialist, or physical therapist. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during visits.

How to help a patient with FFT:

  • Offer foods that the patient likes and are easy to eat. Add nutritional supplements, especially between meals. These can provide calories and protein to increase energy and strength. Ask a dietitian for more information.
  • Talk with the patient's PHP about safe exercises to help the patient gain strength and balance and improve physical function.
  • Encourage social activities. Support from family and friends can give the patient a sense of community and prevent feelings of loneliness.
  • Help prevent falls. Keep paths clear so the patient will not trip on objects such as shoes, books, or electrical cords. Remove small rugs or secure them with double-sided tape. Install bright lights in the patient's home and place frequently used items within reach.

Contact the patient's PHP or specialist if:

  • The patient's symptoms get worse.
  • The patient has a fever.
  • The patient has a dry mouth, headache, or dark yellow urine.
  • The patient does not have an appetite or is losing weight.
  • The patient frequently complains of pain.
  • The patient has a change in behavior.
  • The patient has new difficulty swallowing.
  • The patient falls frequently.
  • You or the patient have questions or concerns about his condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • The patient is not aware of his environment, is confused, or has hallucinations.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.