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The Dangers of Dehydration and Malnutrition in Nursing Homes

As the human body ages, it becomes more vulnerable and susceptible to various health problems. One of the most critical challenges facing older adults is the risk of dehydration and malnutrition. Both conditions can significantly impact an older adult’s health and well-being.

On this page, we will take a closer look at dehydration and malnutrition and whether they constitute elder neglect. From understanding the causes and symptoms of these conditions to exploring strategies for preventing them, we will provide you with the information and resources you need to help ensure the older adults in your life receive the care and support they need to thrive.

Dehydration in Nursing Homes

One of the biggest causes of dehydration in nursing homes is a lack of access to fluids. Nearly 40% of older adults living in nursing homes and other care facilities may be chronically under-hydrated.

This dehydration might be due to older adults sometimes struggling to reach a glass of water or forgetting to drink fluids throughout the day. Medical conditions, such as diabetes, can also contribute to dehydration. Additionally, individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia may not recognize their thirst.

Dehydration Symptoms in the Elderly

The signs and symptoms of dehydration can vary, but common indicators include:

  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Muscle cramps

If left untreated, severe dehydration can lead to symptoms like confusion, weakness, fainting, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, or difficulty walking or moving.

Dehydration can cause serious health complications like kidney stones, urinary tract infections, increased risk of illness, and seizures.

Prevention and Treatment of Dehydration in Nursing Homes

By providing residents with easy access to fluids and reminding them to drink throughout the day, nursing homes can help prevent dehydration. Additionally, healthcare professionals must monitor residents’ fluid intake and implement hydration protocols. Failure to do so could be an indication of neglect.

How Much Water Should an Older Adult Have Each Day?

The amount of water an older person should drink can vary based on several factors, including age, health status, and activity level. There isn’t a one-size fits all answer to the question. However, an individual should consume half of their weight in ounces of water. That means someone who is 150 pounds would need to drink 75 ounces of water.

Keep in mind that about 20% of a person’s water intake comes from food and other beverages. Encourage older adults to eat more vegetables and fruits for an easy way to increase their daily water intake.

Caregivers and nursing home staff can improve hydration by:

  1. Providing accessible water sources, encouraging residents to drink throughout the day, and monitoring residents’ fluid intake.
  2. Educating staff and caregivers about hydration protocols, including the hydration offered by many foods.
  3. Treating conditions that contribute to dehydration such as diabetes, kidney disease, digestive disorder, and incontinence. 

Is Dehydration a Form of Elder Neglect?

Yes, dehydration may be a sign of elder neglect. Suppose a nursing home or care facility fails to provide adequate fluids to residents or follow proper hydration protocols. In that case, staff are not providing the quality of care that an individual deserves. The consequences of dehydration can be severe and even life-threatening.

Here are some questions you can ask the nursing home staff to assess the situation:

  1. How often is a resident’s fluid intake monitored?
  2. Can they access fluids easily and regularly throughout the day?
  3. Do they have any medical conditions or take medications that could contribute to dehydration?
  4. Have there been any changes in their fluid intake or behavior that may indicate dehydration?
  5. What measures does the nursing home have in place to prevent and treat dehydration?
  6. Can I speak with a healthcare professional about my loved one’s hydration status and any concerns I may have?

 Contact Chain | Cohn | Clark if you suspect a loved one is dehydrated due to neglect. Our team can help you determine if the institution is providing adequate care and take steps to protect your loved one’s rights.

Malnutrition in Nursing Homes

Malnutrition is a growing concern among older adults in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Malnutrition is when an individual does not receive enough nutrients from their diet to maintain good health. Malnutrition can occur when there is an imbalance between the amount and type of nutrients consumed and the body’s needs. This serious condition can lead to weight loss, fatigue, weakness, and reduced immune function.

Unfortunately, many older adults in nursing homes are at risk of malnutrition due to various factors, including limited food options, difficulty with eating and swallowing, and reduced appetite. They can also have chronic illnesses or be on medicines that lead to malnutrition.

Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition

The signs and symptoms of malnutrition in older adults can vary, but common indicators include:

  • Weight loss: Unintended weight loss is a common sign of malnutrition in older adults.
  • Fatigue and weakness: Malnutrition can cause a lack of energy and decreased strength, making it difficult for older adults to perform daily activities.
  • Reduced immune function: Malnutrition can make it harder for older adults to fight infections and illnesses.
  • Decreased cognitive function: Malnutrition can lead to confusion, disorientation, and memory loss.
  • Poor wound healing: Malnutrition can slow the healing process and increase the risk of infections in older adults with wounds or injuries.
  • White fingernails: When iron levels are low from malnutrition, the nails can become spoon-shaped, with a white area at the base of the nail.
  • Red or glossy eyes: Malnutrition can affect the eyes by causing a lack of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, which is important for good eye health. 

Prevention and Treatment of Malnutrition in Nursing Homes

Good nutrition is essential for older adults in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Caregivers and staff should be aware of the signs and symptoms of malnutrition and take steps to prevent it.

Elders should have access to nutritious and well-balanced meals, snacks, and beverages throughout the day. Meals should be tailored to each individual’s needs, with special attention given to those who may have difficulty eating or swallowing. Healthcare professionals may sometimes recommend nutritional supplements to help prevent and treat malnutrition.

Caregivers should also monitor each resident’s food intake and assist when needed. Making mealtime an enjoyable and social experience, such as offering table settings, background music, and pleasant lighting, can encourage residents to eat and enjoy their meals.

What Is a Healthy Diet for Older Adults?

The amount of food needed to prevent malnutrition varies based on several factors, including an individual’s age, health status, and activity level. However, a general guideline is to aim for a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states, “Females ages 60 and older require about 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day, and males ages 60 and older require about 2,000 to 2,600 calories per day.”

The USDA also provides the following daily food intake suggestions for adults over the age of 60:

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and the specific amount of food needed to prevent malnutrition may vary for each individual. 

Is Malnutrition a Form of Elder Neglect?

Malnutrition in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities may signify neglect. Caregivers should be aware of the signs and symptoms of malnutrition and provide adequate nutrition to prevent it.

Here are some questions you can ask the nursing home staff to assess the situation:

  • Are meals tailored to meet a resident’s individual needs?
  • Are nutritious snacks provided throughout the day?
  • Does the resident struggle with swallowing or eating, and if so, do they receive assistance at mealtime?
  • Is there a process for monitoring food intake and assessing nutritional needs?
  • What measures does the nursing home have to prevent and treat malnutrition?
  • Are there any medications that could be contributing to malnutrition?

If you suspect a loved one is experiencing malnutrition due to neglect, it is important to take action to ensure their health and well-being. Contacting a knowledgeable elder abuse lawyer can help you determine if the institution is providing adequate care and take steps to protect your loved one’s rights. At Chain | Cohn | Clark, our team is dedicated to helping families navigate complex legal issues and advocate for their loved ones.

Does Malnutrition and Dehydration Constitute Elder Abuse? 

In California, “elder or dependent adult abuse” refers to harmful actions or inaction taken by a caregiver, resulting in physical harm, pain, or mental distress for the elder or dependent adult. Elder abuse can include physical abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, abandonment, kidnapping, or other forms of mistreatment. It can also mean withholding necessary goods or services that could prevent physical or mental suffering.

Both malnutrition and dehydration can fall under the category of preventing physical or mental suffering. If a caregiver in a nursing home or other long-term care facility fails to provide adequate nutrition and hydration to a resident, this could be considered elder abuse. The consequences of malnutrition and dehydration can be severe and even life-threatening, so these conditions must be prevented and treated appropriately.

An experienced elder abuse attorney can help you investigate the situation and determine if the nursing home or care facility is indeed providing adequate care. If necessary, the attorney can take legal action to protect your loved one’s rights and seek compensation for any damages or losses due to negligence.

Chain | Cohn | Clark Will Advocates for Elders 

If your loved one is suffering from malnutrition or dehydration due to neglect in a nursing home in Bakersfield, contact Chain | Cohn | Clark. Our experienced legal team will work with you to investigate the situation and pursue compensation for any damages or losses due to negligence. We are here to help you protect your loved one’s rights and ensure they receive quality care and nutrition. 

Contact us today for a free consultation. 

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