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Nursing Home Malnutrition and Dehydration

Elderly woman in abusive nursing home

When it comes to elder care, nursing homes have a lot of responsibilities and obligations they must uphold in order to keep their residents safe and comfortable. Unfortunately, many nursing homes are failing at this, as evidenced by the fact that an estimated 12% of those living in these facilities suffer from some form of elder abuse or neglect. One of the most common forms of abuse in nursing homes is dehydration and/or malnutrition, both of which can lead to serious complications when left untreated.

How Common Are Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Homes?

Malnourishment and dehydration are more common than most people think. Based on a recent study, it’s estimated that over 30% of nursing home residents in the United States suffer some form of malnutrition or dehydration during their stay. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for signs that your loved one is suffering from a lack of proper nutrients or fluids.

What is Malnutrition?

Malnourishment refers to a condition in which an individual’s body is not being supplied with the adequate amounts of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals their body needs to continue functioning.

Signs of Nursing Home Malnutrition

The first telltale sign of malnutrition in nursing homes is weight loss. If you notice a loved one has dropped five or more pounds since he or she started living in a nursing home, talk to staff about your concerns.

Nursing home residents who are malnourished may also have difficulty chewing their food, or they may simply stop eating altogether.

Other signs of nursing home malnutrition can include:

  • Skin that appears thin, inelastic, and/or flaky;
  • Dull hair color;
  • Muscle weakness;
  • Increased sensitivity to cold;
  • Delayed reflexes.

Effects of Nursing Home Malnutrition

Generally speaking, most cases of malnutrition are reversible if caught early enough; however, there can be some long-term complications associated with it as well.

When left untreated, malnutrition in elderly individuals can develop serious medical conditions, some of which can require immediate attention. Some conditions that can result from malnutrition include:

  • Osteoporosis;
  • Anemia;
  • peptic ulcers;
  • skin problems;
  • Possibly death.

Factors in Nursing Home Malnutrition

Malnourishment can come about in nursing homes in many ways. It can be created by factors such as poor nutrition intake from an unbalanced diet, eating disorders, digestive diseases, chronic conditions that prevent a person from eating enough food, medication side effects, a lack of a proper nutrition programs for home residents, and even neglect or abuse from nursing home caretakers.

What is Dehydration?

Before we can go over how to spot dehydration in nursing homes, it’s important to first understand what dehydration actually is. According to the National Institute of Health, dehydration is a loss of body water that occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in.

The National Institutes of Health defines dehydration as loss of body water due to inadequate intake, excessive fluid loss, or a combination of both.

Signs of Nursing Home Dehydration

When it comes to seniors, illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s are often accompanied by a lack of thirst (i.e., they won’t drink even if they need to). This makes recognizing the signs of dehydration especially important because many of the individuals afflicted by these conditions may not be able to tell anyone if something is wrong.

There are a handful of signs to look for when determining how dehydrated someone could be. People who suffer from malnutrition will experience different levels of symptoms depending on how serious their case is—severity can range from mild to life-threatening.

At first glance, dehydration may appear as a sudden loss in weight, but you should always be on alert for characteristic symptoms such as:

  • Pale or flushed skin color;
  • Fatigue;
  • Sunken eyes;
  • Dark-colored urine;
  • Dry mouth and throat;
  • Dizziness;
  • Swollen hands and/or feet;
  • Dry skin;
  • No tears when crying;
  • Headaches;
  • Extreme thirst;
  • Confusion;
  • Lethargy;
  • Possible craving for sugar;
  • Cramps.

A severely dehydrated person may also have low blood pressure with an elevated heart rate.

Effects of Nursing Home Dehydration

If left untreated, dehydration in nursing homes can cause a number of conditions such as:

  • Kidney stones;
  • Seizures;
  • Mental confusion;
  • Possibly death.

In one recent study, nursing home residents that were dehydrated also reported feeling less independent than those in the same facility who reported maintaining higher levels of hydration.

Factors in Nursing Home Dehydration

There are quite a number of factors that can affect the likelihood of a nursing home resident being dehydrated. Some of these factors can include:

  • Lack of appetite – People with a decreased appetite often don’t realize how much fluid they need to stay hydrated each day. Changes in diet can also affect a person’s fluid needs because not all foods contain enough water to keep a person properly hydrated.
  • Medications – Elderly adults living in nursing homes may be taking many different medications at the same time, both prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter medications. Many medications act as diuretics that cause an increase in urination, which leads to dehydration if more fluids are not consumed to counteract the loss.
  • Bowel movement changes – Many elderly people develop constipation while they are living in a nursing home setting. Since they are unable to eat enough food on their own or move around very much, they become constipated because there is no need for them to have a bowel movement on a regular basis like when they were at home. Constipation causes stool impaction, and when too much stool remains stuck in your colon for long periods of time, it can become dryer than normal and absorb more water from the body.
  • Immobility – Nursing home residents have varying degrees of mobility, health conditions that cause them to need extra assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), mental or cognitive impairment, or self-neglect that could be dangerous for themselves or others.
  • Abuse or Neglect – Elderly residents who cannot get their own drinks must rely on the nursing home staff to provide them with an adequate supply of fluids.

Get in Touch with a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Today

Nursing home dehydration is preventable, but it is also common. If you or a loved one has been a victim of nursing home dehydration, please contact us today to speak with an experienced nursing home lawyer. We have years of experience helping families like yours fight for justice in order to hold those responsible accountable for their negligence. No family should ever have to lose a loved one because they failed to treat them with adequate care. Call Heidari Law Group today at 1-833-225-5454 to speak with an experienced attorney or contact us online.

***Disclaimer: The content of this webpage, created by Heidari Law Group, is intended solely for educational purposes. While it endeavors to provide a general understanding of the law, it should not be construed as specific legal advice. Accessing and reading this site does not establish an attorney-client relationship with any member of Heidari Law. Furthermore, please be aware that the legal landscape is constantly evolving, potentially rendering some information outdated or inapplicable.

Sam Heidari

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