Elderly nursing home residents are prone to dehydration and malnutrition for a variety of reasons, including decreased conditioning, dementia, and medications. Poor nutrition and dehydration in nursing home residents can be preventable conditions. In fact, the federal OBRA regulations require nursing home operators to ensure that its residents do not suffer from malnutrition and dehydration and initiate all necessary steps to prevent the same. Regardless of the causes, early problem recognition can help to ensure appropriate and timely nutritional and/or fluid intervention. A failure to address poor nutrition and dehydration can lead to serious consequences, including encephalopathy, loss of appetite and malnutrition, kidney injury, and an increased risk of infection — particularly in the elderly.
Unfortunately, too often, a nursing home fails to provide adequate staffing levels, fails to train its staff and delegates primary care of its residents to poorly trained aides in an effort to keep operating costs low at the expense of resident safety. These factors often lead to the disastrous consequences that occur if an elderly nursing home patient becomes dehydrated or malnourished.
Why are the elderly at a higher risk of dehydration or malnutrition?
As people age, they have a reduced sensation of thirst. The elderly are more vulnerable to dehydration due to the physiological changes they are experiencing from the aging process.
Laxatives and Diuretics
Medications that the resident is prescribed and taking, such as diuretics and laxatives, flush the body of fluids. If the resident is not taking in enough water to supplement that fluid loss, then they will experience mild to severe dehydration.
Cognitive impairments due to various forms of dementia can adversely affect a person’s ability to speak, move, or to even be cognizant of where they are. Patients who suffer from dementia or the effects of a past stroke often possess a reduced thirst sensation that can lead to reduced fluid consumption. Swallowing deficits in such patients can also affect their ability to eat certain types of food that make adequate nutrition more challenging.
In order to save money on costs, nursing home facility managers and operators will not hire enough staff to provide the best care for residents. If the staff are unable to dedicate enough time to each individual elderly person, then the health of the residents can be in jeopardy.
Nurses can provide dietary counseling and education to older adults as well as oral nutritional supplements and food or fluid fortification or enrichment, but only if they have enough time and the resources to do this.
What are the signs of dehydration in seniors?
If the dehydration isn’t treated then it can lead to health complications including but not limited to:
- Altered mental status
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney stones
- Seizures due to low levels of potassium or sodium
- Kidney failure
People have different nutritional needs at different periods of development. With elderly nursing home residents, the facility staff must adequately assess the patient’s nutritional status and needs and then formulate an appropriate diet that will provide proper nutrition. Nursing staff who work with the elderly need to understand their dietary needs through proper assessment and consultation with a registered dietitian. For example, most young people don’t think about taking daily calcium supplements because their daily intake of dairy or vegetables and daily exercise is usually enough to keep their bones strong. However, as people age, their body stops building bone as fast, so many people age 65 and older, especially women, require calcium supplements to prevent them from suffering fractures. This is a concern specific to geriatric populations, particularly those with certain underlying conditions or prior surgeries, so the staff has to know exactly what to look for and what risks residents face if their nutritional needs are not met.
Consequences of malnutrition
Adequate nutrition plays a key role in the well-being of a nursing home resident. If an elderly person becomes malnourished, he or she is at an increased risk for various associated diseases and conditions. Malnutrition can lead to dehydration, increased susceptibility to infection, skin breakdown, and other maladies. Additionally, poor nutrition can cause a loss of muscle mass or weakness, which, in turn, can lead to falls. For all of these reasons, it is imperative that a nursing home fulfill its duty of care and provide its residents with the care they need to maintain good nutritional status.
How The Rooth Law Firm Can Help
At The Rooth Law Firm, we are experienced and well-versed in handling all sorts of nursing home abuse and neglect cases involving dehydration and malnutrition. Our investigation of these cases will typically include a review by our in-house nurse and consultations with outside medical experts. When we file a lawsuit, we will aggressively pursue your rights to obtain fair and just recovery, whether through trial or settlement.
At The Rooth Law Firm, we understand the broken trust that has occurred when a loved one is injured in a nursing home. With compassion, integrity, and professionalism, we seek to obtain justice for the nursing home’s failure to fulfill its duty to keep your loved one safe and free from harm. Give us a call at The Rooth Law Firm, we’re here for you!