Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center


  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:




Failure-to-thrive is a decrease in mental and physical ability.


Failure-to-thrive is caused by more than one problem. It is not the same for each person. Long term health problems often play a role.

For example, mental health problems can make it hard for some people to eat well. This can worsen health.

Risk Factors

Failure-to-thrive is more common in older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Having more than one long term health problem
  • Taking certain medicines
  • Physical or intellectual limits
  • Having little or no social interaction
  • Lack of financial resources
The Brain.

http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=69826982brain_man_sketch.jpgBrain Man FaceNULLjpgBrain Man FaceNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\brain_man_sketch.jpgNULL112NULL2008-02-264003006982_997142Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Symptoms may be:

  • Lack of hunger
  • Confusion
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Inactivity
  • Being more tired than usual
  • Feelings of depression


The doctor will ask about symptoms, past health, diet, and activities. A physical and mental health exam will be done.

Tests may be done to look for physical causes. It may take some time to find all the issues that are causing the problem.


Treatment will depend on the causes. Options may be:


To help prevent failure to thrive:

  • Get medical help for problems
  • Follow a care plan for a long term health problem

Treating Current Health Problems

Changes may need to be made to manage long term health problems. Sometimes a treatment can cause problems and may need to be changed.

Diet Changes

A dietitian can help with meal planning and food choices.

Supportive Care

Supportive care may be:

  • Social workers who can suggest services to help with shopping, meals, and home care
  • Physical or occupational therapy to help with movement
  • Counseling to talk about emotions


Medicine may be given for depression.

End-of-Life Care

Failure-to-thrive may be the end stage of an illness. Advance directives are important for a care plan. These documents can help guide a person's medical care. It is for people who cannot direct their own care. Other important documents are a living will and medical power of attorney.





  • Kumeliauskas L, Fruetel K, et al. Evaluation of older adults hospitalized with a diagnosis of failure-to-thrive. Can Geriatr J. 2013;16(2):49-53. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671012.
  • Roberton R, Montagnini M. Geriatric failure-to-thrive. Am Fam Physician. 2004 Jul 15;70(2):343-350. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0715/p343.html.


  • Nicole S. Meregian, PA
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.