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Failure To Thrive In An Older Adult


What does failure to thrive in an older adult mean?

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.

What increases the risk for FTT?

  • Decreased ability to adapt to change
  • Social isolation or recent loss of a loved one
  • Increased need for care or feelings of helplessness
  • Illness or chronic health problems
  • Loss of hearing or vision
  • Side effects from certain medicines, such as pain medicine, blood pressure medicine, or diuretics (water pills)
  • Alcohol abuse and other drug abuse

What are the signs and symptoms of FTT?

  • Decreased appetite, trouble eating, or weight loss
  • Change in activity level or difficulty with activities of daily living, such as getting in and out of bed, walking, bathing, dressing, and toileting
  • Change in behavior or lack of interest in social activities
  • Memory problems

How is FTT diagnosed?

The caregiver will examine the patient and ask if he takes medicines or has any health conditions. He will also ask about activities of daily living, and if there has been a change in the patient's ability to perform them.

  • A mental exam checks the patient's awareness, mood, and memory. The caregiver will ask the patient if he knows his name, his location, and the date.
  • Blood or urine tests check for infection, test kidney and liver function, or provide information about the patient's overall health. Caregivers may also check alcohol levels.
  • Hearing and vision tests check for problems with hearing or sight.
  • Imaging tests , such as a chest x-ray, CT, or MRI, check for infection or tumors.

How is FTT treated?

Treatment depends on the individual patient. The patient may need treatment for other medical conditions. The caregiver may change a medicine if it is causing symptoms of FTT. The caregiver may prescribe medicine to improve appetite and mood.

What can I do to help a patient with FTT?

  • 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 caregiver 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.

When should I contact the patient's caregiver?

  • 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 has questions or concerns about his condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

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

Care Agreement

Patients have the right to help plan their care. To help with this plan, patients and their caregivers must learn about their health condition and how it may be treated. Patients, caregivers, and doctors can work together to decide what care might be best. Patients always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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