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What Is Adult Failure to Thrive?

Adult failure to thrive (AFTT) is a decline seen in older adults. Fortunately, AFTT is frequently reversible with medical intervention, which may prevent further deterioration, alleviate symptoms, and restore a person to health. However, if the patient does not improve, AFTT can result in the need to develop an end-of-life plan.


patient receives kiss on the cheek from loved one while they discuss adult failure to thrive

Compassus understands that taking care of an aging loved one presents unique challenges. Our compassionate caregivers can inform you about failure to thrive meanings and address any concerns. We are committed to providing treatment that keeps patients as comfortable and healthy as possible during their twilight years.  

What Is Adult Failure to Thrive?

What is AFTT? Adult failure to thrive is a condition that commonly affects the elderly, especially people with multiple chronic medical conditions. It is the end-stage of frailty syndrome, a broader term for age-related decline.

Seniors often don’t want to burden loved ones, meaning they might not mention signs of AFTT. Family or caregivers may also miss the warning signs if the changes are gradual. Generally, a person experiencing AFTT will demonstrate one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Lack of interest in other people and social activities
  • Memory loss or cognitive impairment
  • Depression
  • Difficulty with daily activities

These symptoms may significantly diminish the quality of a person’s life, so it’s essential to recognize the signs of AFTT and seek help promptly. 

What Causes AFTT?

The causes of AFTT frequently include physical, psychological, social, financial, and cultural factors. Health problems and bodily changes are among the most common reasons people become affected by adult failure to thrive. These may include the following:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of hearing or vision
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic health problems, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart failure
  • Side effects from medication

Mental health issues, traumatic events, and significant life changes may also lead to the onset of AFTT. Additional risk factors include:

  • Social isolation
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Financial difficulties
  • Depression
  • Need for more intensive care

Fortunately, regardless of underlying causes, treatment for AFTT is possible.

Diagnosis and Treatment for AFTT

No single test points to a diagnosis of AFTT. Doctors typically rely on health history, family interviews, blood tests, and experienced clinical judgment.

They often start by completing a physical exam, asking about medications, and assessing any pre-existing health conditions. They’ll also inquire about the patient’s eating habits and the daily amount of food they consume. Additionally, physicians may ask about changes in daily activities or functional abilities. Exams might also include cognitive tests to measure thinking and memory.

Though the course of treatment for AFTT depends on underlying causes, it should involve a comprehensive approach that combines medical intervention and lifestyle changes. Treatment for pain or underlying health problems can slow or reverse the cycle of decline. 

When Is Hospice Care Necessary?

Though medical intervention and treatments may help many patients, some continue to decline. For instance, a person may lose their appetite or have trouble swallowing, causing the body to absorb fewer essential nutrients and leading to a downward health spiral. If the patient doesn’t want tube feeding or intensive care, it might be time to consider hospice care.

People often say the quality of life is more important than how long they live. Hospice enables people to reach their goals by reducing stress, pain, and symptoms of severe illness. Hospice care is available at home, in a nursing facility, or in a hospital. Conversations about this type of care can help patients make family members aware of what’s important to them at the end of life. 

Seek Support for AFTT from Compassus

hospice team can help you make the best decisions and guide you through every step of the journey. We’re passionate about facilitating care that allows people to spend their final years in comfort and dignity.

Compassus offers in-home, hospice, and palliative care to patients nationwide. We provide elderly clients with the support and resources they need to manage symptoms and enjoy the highest quality of life. Call 833.380.9583 to speak with a compassionate caregiver about options, or fill out our online form to get in touch.