Dehydration is a shortage of water and fluids in the body. The body needs water to function normally, prevent illness, fight infection, transport toxins out of the body, break down food and medications, and facilitate the absorption of nutrients. When dehydrated, the body cannot function optimally and serious problems can result, even death.
Improper hydration is a common problem in many nursing homes. Due to various physical limitations or cognitive impairments, elderly individuals may be unable to provide adequate hydration for themselves. Residents who are bedridden or are unable to feed themselves are at a much higher risk of dehydration. Further, those residents who are acutely ill or who are incapable of communicating their thirst and need for fluids, i.e., English is not their primary language, can also become dehydrated easily.
In some cases, residents may even contribute to their own dehydration by refusing fluids, because they may believe that they are not thirsty, when in fact they are dehydrated, due to a muted sense of thirst. They may also believe that reducing fluid intake will result in fewer trips to the bathroom. While it may be inconvenient to frequent the bathroom, it is one of the most important health-promoting things an elderly person can do. Dehydration causes the concentration of the urine, which can exacerbate urinary tract issues and/or cause irritation of the bladder.
Preventing Dehydration in Nursing Homes
There are many proactive dehydration prevention techniques and strategies that can be employed by nursing home staff, which are easy to implement and promote hydration. For instance, providing each resident with a water pitcher that is in easy reach, or can easily be gotten to and used by the resident, can help increase the number of fluids consumed by a resident each day. If a resident needs straws or other means to facilitate the intake of fluids, such things should be made available for the resident’s use. Providing residents with ample opportunity to receive liquids is also a useful technique. At the very minimum, fluids should be given to residents with all meals and at least once between meals, if not more frequently. Administering fluids with medications is also a good idea unless doing so is expressly contradictory to instructions given by a doctor. During warmer weather, administering frozen fluids in the form of popsicles or ice chips is another way to encourage fluid consumption while beating the heat.
Many aspects of dehydration are not outwardly visible. However, there are several symptoms that a visual inspection of your loved one during a visit to the nursing home can reveal as signs of dehydration. For example, dry, cracked lips, poor skin turgor (elasticity), unexplainable weight loss, and the resident’s confused behavior can all indicate insufficient intake of fluids. Unfortunately, by the time these signs are visibly apparent, there has been a substantial loss of fluids and replenishment of those fluids needs to begin immediately.
If your loved one shows signs of dehydration, it could be an indication of a more serious issue: neglect. The Rooth Law Firm provides free consultations to individuals who believe their loved ones may be suffering neglect by nursing home staff. To learn more, contact our law firm at (800) 598-4348.