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Nursing Home Malnutrition and Dehydration

Malnutrition and dehydration are two of the most common forms of nursing home abuse and neglect. It is estimated that roughly 40% of nursing home residents in the United States suffer malnutrition or dehydration at any point, which can lead to many negative health outcomes. Although the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 requires skilled nursing facilities to continually assess the nutritional needs of their patients, malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes continue to plague nursing home residents. If you suspect that someone you love is suffering malnutrition or dehydration, you may want to speak to a California nursing home malnutrition lawyer or dehydration attorney

Dealing With Malnutrition in California Nursing Homes

Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy or nutrients. The two forms of malnutrition most likely to be found in the nursing home setting are undernutrition and micronutrient-related malnutrition. Undernutrition occurs where the sufferer does not consume enough nutrients, resulting in weight loss or low body weight. Micronutrient-related malnutrition occurs where the sufferer has deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals. 

Studies show that approximately 20% of nursing home residents suffer from some form of malnutrition. Symptoms of malnutrition include: 

  • Unintentional weight loss (usually defined as losing 5% to 10% or more of weight over three to six months) 
  • Low body weight (a body mass index [BMI] of under 18.5) 
  • A lack of interest in eating or drinking
  • Feelings of tiredness or fatigue
  • Feeling weak
  • Getting ill often and taking longer to recover
  • Poor concentration 
  • Low mood or depression 
  • Feeling cold often 

Malnutrition in older adults can lead to very serious health concerns, such as a weakened immune system, poor wound healing, decreased muscle and bone mass, a higher risk of hospitalization, and a higher risk of death. 

Dehydration Concerns Among the Elderly

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in, impairing the body’s ability to carry out basic functions. Precise statistics are elusive, although a 2016 study of 247 subjects in eight different nursing homes found that 38.3% of subjects were dehydrated, while another 30.5% had impending dehydration. The most common symptoms of dehydration in adults include: 

  • Feeling thirsty 
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feeling tired
  • Dark, or strong-smelling urine
  • Dry mouth, lips, and eyes
  • Infrequent or low-volume urination 

Older adults generally are at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated than the general population due to the decrease in the amount of fluids the body is able to retain as it ages. They are also at higher risk of suffering complications. Dehydration can result in serious complications, such as heatstroke, urinary and kidney infections, seizures, and hypovolemic shock. For more information about the effects of dehydration on the elderly, please contact a California nursing home dehydration lawyer

How Does Malnutrition and Dehydration in California Nursing Homes Occur? 

Anyone can become malnourished or dehydrated, but older adults are at a higher risk of suffering both conditions because they often rely upon others for some or all of the daily necessities of life, including food and water. Malnutrition and dehydration are also more serious for seniors than the general population, as both conditions can weaken the immune system and adversely affect the body’s ability to heal from wounds and illnesses. 

There are many underlying causes of malnutrition and dehydration, but in the nursing home context, they typically arise in one of the following ways: 

  • Neglect: Neglect occurs where nursing home staff do not adequately monitor the patient’s nutritional or hydration needs, ignore the patient’s requests for help, or fail to provide assistance with eating and drinking when necessary 
  • Abuse: Abuse occurs where nursing home staff intentionally deprive the patient of food or water as a form of punishment or manipulation or as a show of power
  • Understaffing: Many nursing homes are chronically understaffed, which can lead to lapses in supervision and result in a lower standard of care for patients 
  • Insufficient foodservice: Foodservice issues are not uncommon in nursing homes. In some cases, food provided by the nursing home may lack proper nutritional value, while in others the food may simply be unappetizing or inedible. Nursing home staff may also fail to properly provide specialized diets when certain patients require it. 

The underlying causes of malnutrition and dehydration in particular residents can also be traced to other issues not directly related to nursing home abuse or neglect, such as: 

  • Age-related changes: Taste, smell, and appetite typically decrease with age, making it more difficult to enjoy eating or to keep up with a regular eating schedule 
  • Illnesses: Certain illnesses can contribute to decreased appetite and changes in the way the body processes and stores nutrients
  • Dementia: Dementia can often result in the sufferer forgetting to eat or drink, eating or drinking at unusual times, or eating or drinking unusual foods or beverages with low nutritional value
  • Physical impairment: Many nursing home residents have difficulty chewing, swallowing, or handling silverware, making eating more difficult 
  • Depression: Mental conditions such as depression, grief, and loneliness are known to decrease the appetite and lessen the sufferers’ resolve to take care of themselves
  • Medications: Certain medications can affect the appetite or lead to changes in taste or the body’s ability to absorb nutrients

Legal Remedies for Malnutrition and Dehydration

Nursing homes are legally liable for the actions of their staff. Even if a nursing home resident’s malnutrition or dehydration is not a direct result of abuse or neglect by staff (e.g., the resident is on an appetite-suppressing medication), the nursing home may still be at fault. This is because nursing home staff have a duty to provide an appropriate standard of care to their patients, which includes monitoring their diets and hydration. If the standard of care they provide falls below that which is required and results in harm, the nursing home will be legally liable for the harm caused to the patient. 

Contact a California Nursing Home Malnutrition Lawyer for Help

If you suspect that someone you love is suffering malnutrition or dehydration in a nursing home, you should consider contacting an attorney to prevent further harm. To get started, please contact a California nursing home dehydration lawyer or malnutrition attorney at the Evans Law Firm by using our online form or calling us at 415-441-8669.

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