Liquid Nutritional Substances and Nursing Home Neglect

Many of us in the San Diego area have seen commercials for liquid nutritional supplements, particularly those marketed toward older adults.  According to a story in the New York Times, these bottles have become “staples in older people’s refrigerators, in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and in hospitals.”  As such, it’s only logical to assume that these liquid supplements are healthy and can even benefit the elderly.

However, a recent set of recommendations from the American Geriatrics Society suggested that these drinks aren’t as beneficial as their manufacturers would like us to believe.  Indeed, replacing elderly adults’ meals with these liquid supplements may even rise to the level of nursing home neglect.


Dangers of Boost, Ensure, and Other Supplement Drinks for the Elderly

According to Paul Mulhausen, the head of the American Geriatrics Society’s “Choosing Wisely” workgroup, drinks like Boost, Ensure, and other generic supplements aren’t healthy at all.  Indeed, Mulhausen refers to them as “liquid candy bars with vitamins.”  He explained that they’re mostly made up of water, “several forms of sugar,” oils, and flavorings.

But don’t the drinks provide nutritional information that looks quite healthy?  It’s true that, in a bottle of rich chocolate Boost Original, a consumer can get 10 grams of protein.  But it’s the high amount of sugar—and few other nutrients—that’s alarming.  For instance, drinking a bottle of Boost with 10 grams of protein also means you’re taking in 28 grams of sugar, and zero fiber.  And even if you choose a flavor other than chocolate, you’re still likely to get at least 15 grams of sugar.  Most of us don’t know how many grams of sugar constitutes too much.  To put it in perspective, some of the allegedly sugary cereals that parents complain about—such as Froot Loops or Lucky Charms—have “much less sugar per serving than these drinks.”

While older adults who have suffered seemingly unexplained weight loss believe they can add some weight with these supplements, it’s important to keep in mind that they often cause gastrointestinal systems with few benefits.  Indeed, “there’s no evidence that such supplements affect mood, functional ability, quality of life, or survival, even if they do add a few pounds.”

Mulhausen emphasizes that an older adult who is experiencing significant weight loss should see a doctor rather than self-medicate with supplements like Boost.  In most cases, if there’s an underlying disease that’s causing the weight loss, a supplement may do more harm than good.

Marketing Problems and Older Adults

Is it possible that these supplements haven’t been marketed appropriately?  Could companies producing liquid supplements like Boost or Ensure face liability for marketing problems?  If Mulhausen is right, the proper use of a liquid supplement probably doesn’t involve using it as a substitute for regular meals.  He explains that “they’re marketed as something that helps you be vigorous and well as you age,” telling seniors that they can “stay strong, stay active, with Boost.”  However, Mulhausen argues that there’s no clear value of the supplements in these situations.

Rather than using potentially harmful supplements, older adults should do their best to “eat real food.”  And for those who need assistance eating, it’s important for caregivers to recognize the difference between drinks claiming to be meal replacements and actual meals.

Has your elderly loved one been mistreated or suffered injuries from neglect at a nursing home or assisted-living facility in Southern California?  At the Walton Law Firm, we take claims of elder abuse very seriously and can discuss your case with you today.  Contact a nursing home neglect lawyer at our firm to learn how we can help.

Photo Credit: Dee West (Formerly deedoucette) via Compfight cc

See Related Blog Posts:

Nursing Home Staffing Numbers and Elder Abuse

Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

Contact Information