Fighting the Epidemic- Nursing Home Malnutrition and Dehydration

Elderly dehydration and malnutrition form a silent epidemic among nursing home residents. It is estimated that 25-60% of nursing home residents suffer from malnutritionElderly dehydration and malnutrition. Having access to enough food and water are basic human needs and rights, yet the nursing homes that are well-compensated to care for our elderly and infirm often shirk this most basic responsibility.

If nursing homes are understaffed or careless and don’t provide residents with the appropriate amount of food and fluids, it can pose a serious health threat. A recent article published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Ohio nursing homes are among the nation’s lowest-rated in terms of quality of care.

Eating and Drinking Sufficiently Are Critical to Resident’s Safety

Nursing home residents often rely on their facility to supply them with the proper amount of nutrients. Additionally, residents may require encouragement to eat and drink or physical assistance to consume food and fluids via their mouth or through feeding tubes.

If the home overworks or understaffs, staff may overlook residents’ needs, then injuries can result from receiving too little food or water. These injuries include bedsores, kidney failure, shock and even death. Factors that can present difficulties for residents to consume the appropriate amounts of nutrients and fluids include:

  • Swallowing disorders
  • Poor oral health (needing dentures, etc.)
  • Inadequate nursing home staffing
  • Lack of supervision over the residents

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when there is excessive loss of water from one’s body or lack of adequate intake of water. The elderly and disabled cannot always sense or communicate thirst. As people age, their neurological mechanism for thirst sensation decreases and, in some cases, physical weakness or lack of awareness prevents dehydrated residents from informing nursing home staff that they are thirsty. As a result, nursing homes must remain proactive and carefully monitor other signs and symptoms of dehydration such as:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry and sticky mouth
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dry Skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting

The Elderly Have a Greater Risk for Dehydration

According to the Mayo Clinic elderly individuals are at a greater risk for becoming dehydrated. “As you age, your body’s fluid reserve becomes smaller, your ability to conserve water is reduced and your thirst sense becomes less acute.” These issues compound when nursing homes fail to monitor a resident’s intake of fluids, especially for those who have mobility issues and cannot obtain water on their own. If you are concerned that a loved one is experiencing dehydration due to nursing home neglect, please contact our experienced nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys.

Signs of Malnutrition

Malnutrition is the lack of proper nutrition. Not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or the body being unable to use the food that one does eat can cause malnutrition. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of malnutrition are harder to identify with elderly individuals. In order to determine if your loved one may be suffering from malnutrition, make sure to:

  • Observe their eating habits
  • Watch for weight loss
  • Look out for poor wound healing, easy bruising or dental problems
  • Know the patient’s medications and the effect of those medications on appetite, digestion, and nutrient absorption

Other signs of malnutrition to be aware of and look out for include:

  • Severe, rapid, unplanned weight loss
  • Red, inflamed eyes
  • Confusion
  • Sudden memory problems
  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Muscle twitches and loss of muscle mass
  • Infections or canker sores in the mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Goiter

Certain medications may also produce many of these symptoms. This sometimes makes malnutrition harder to spot. Be aware of a loved one’s prescriptions to know which symptoms are side effects of the medicine or are from a larger issue.

In Ohio, our legislature provided certain minimum guarantees in the care and treatment for nursing home patrons in a law commonly known as the Ohio Nursing Home Resident’s Bill of Rights. That law entitles nursing home residents “the right to have any significant change in the resident’s health status reported to the resident’s sponsor. As soon as the home’s staff is aware of the change, the home shall make a reasonable effort to notify the sponsor within twelve hours.” You have the right to know if your loved one is experiencing any changes in health, including if they are becoming dehydrated or malnourished. If dehydration or malnourishment is a possibility, your loved one needs an advocate.

Call Tittle & Perlmuter Today for a Free Consultation

Malnutrition and dehydration should not occur in the nursing home setting, but unfortunately, this type of nursing home neglect does occur. The lawyers at Tittle & Perlmuter are ready to listen to your case and advise you on the best course of action. Call 216-285-9991 for a free consultation or fill out an online contact form. We will promptly respond back to you. We are available on the weekend and during evenings, and we can come to you.

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