Significant weight loss in nursing home residents was an unintended consequence of COVID-19-related restrictions this past spring, according to a new study.

Investigators analyzed weight data from residents in a 240-bed suburban Chicago facility from December 2019 through April 2020. The operator ceased all nonessential visits and replaced group meals with in-room delivery beginning in March, following guidelines from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services and state health officials. 

From February to April, two-thirds (67%) of residents lost weight, and nearly a quarter lost more than 5% of their body weight, reported Margaret K. Danilovich, Ph.D., from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Several disruptions may have had an effect on residents’ food intake, researchers said. For example, residents requiring assistance ate with a nursing assistant at staggered times. Also, uneven intervals between meals resulted in reduced appetite and consumption. In addition, group activities ceased, and residents were encouraged to stay in their rooms. These changes reduced social interactions, which are known to support meal consumption. Finally, family visits ceased, so residents did not receive outside food. 

A peer-reviewed article has been published as a pre-proof in JAMDA.