Are you going into the hospital? Be sure to ask your doctor how you can plan ahead to get the nutrition you need during your hospital stay and when you return home.
Facts about hospitals and malnutrition
A hospital stay can have a big impact on whether you get all the nutrients your body needs. It’s estimated that:
- 3 in 5 older adults in hospitals are malnourished
- 1 in 3 patients enter a hospital under-nourished
- 1 in 3 patients leaves the hospital with worse nutrition than when they entered
- 1 in 2 malnourished patients falls in the hospital
Malnutrition can put you at an increased risk for complications like infections, muscle loss, longer hospital stays, and increased chances of readmission. Simply put, malnutrition can delay your recovery and increase your risk for medical complications.
6 questions to ask your doctor
If you or a loved one is planning a hospital stay, ask your doctor these questions to help you maintain good nutrition and muscle health during your recovery and beyond.
- What is my current nutritional status?
The hospital should screen your nutritional status when you’re admitted. If not, ask for it. If they find you are at risk for malnutrition, ask for a nutritional assessment by a dietitian and ask what can be done to build you nutritional health and muscle.
- How can I make sure to eat well when I get home?
It can be hard to drive, shop, and cook while you’re recovering from a hospital stay. Plan ahead to get the help you need and ask your doctor for advice. Perhaps a family member or neighbor can bring you meals or groceries. Hospital social workers and case workers can connect you to meal delivery and in-home care services. Eldercare Locater is a free website where you can search for providers in your area. Programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) also can help you afford nutritious food.
- How will I know if I’m becoming malnourished?
Just as important as planning for good nutrition is knowing how to recognize the warning signs of poor nutrition once you’re back home. Some symptoms to watch for include unusual weight loss, trouble chewing or swallowing, and changes in appetite. If you experience any of these warning signs, inform your doctor right away.
- How should I manage my prescribed medications?
It’s important to know how certain prescriptions will interact with what you eat. Some foods can affect treatment, and some medications can affect your appetite or make it more difficult for your body to absorb key nutrients. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of every prescribed medicine and whether you should take it with food.
- Which foods should I eat and which should I avoid as I recover?
Ask your doctor if you should restrict any foods or ingredients, such as salt, sugar, or alcohol, and for how long. Stock up on your favorite snacks, and make sure they’re ok with your doctor. There may be times when you don’t feel like eating, so having something you really enjoy—even if it’s just small bites—can help you maintain your nutrition. If you have to eat plain foods, give them flavor with spices and herbs. You also can ask if your doctor recommends an oral nutritional supplement and whether your insurance will cover the cost. Oral nutritional supplements are often available at the drug store and can help maintain nutrition and your muscle health.
- Should I avoid physical activity, and if so, for how long?
It’s important to maintain your muscle health, so exercise matters. Confirm with your doctor whether you should avoid physical activity for any amount of time and when you can resume.
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