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California Nursing Home Dehydration & Malnutrition Attorney



Many residents suffer from ​malnutrition​ and dehydration in California nursing homes. Nursing homes are responsible for providing nutritious meals and liquids to residents. Just as everyone needs a certain amount of food and water, it is even more important to ensure that elderly persons receive proper nutrition and hydration. Lack of proper nutrition can trigger many health problems, including causing an elder to be more vulnerable to bed sores.

Similarly, lack of proper hydration can have severe health implications such as frequent urinary tract infections and kidney failure. Elderly persons need an adequate amount of food and liquids, as well as vitamins and minerals to make them healthier and stronger.

When dehydration or malnutrition occur in a nursing home, it is almost always a sign of neglect.

A healthy diet prevents physical decline and is very important as a person ages. Nutritious meals and snacks are required for nursing home residents and should be assessed regularly by staff. Elderly residents often need nutritional supplements as well. Bringing a tray of food to a resident does not guarantee adequate nutrition. Malnutrition is usually caused by inadequate food intake, poor food choices, medication-caused lack of appetite, or poor nutrient absorption.

In addition to a balanced diet, regular hydration is also essential in keeping elderly patients healthy. Simply bringing water to a patient does not mean that they have ingested it or are no longer at risk of being dehydrated. It is the responsibility of the nursing home to ensure that the residents are actually hydrating.

Malnutrition and dehydration are sure signs of ​nursing home neglect. When serious, malnutrition can cause death due to starvation, just as severe dehydration can cause death.

How are Malnutrition and Dehydration Defined?

Malnutrition is defined as getting too little nutrients for maintaining basic health. Malnutrition can cause serious health implications for any elderly individual. Extreme cases of either malnutrition or dehydration can prove fatal for an elderly individual if mishandled or not treated.

Dehydration in a nursing home facility is defined as not consuming enough water to the point where the body’s ability to properly function is inhibited. Dehydration can prove fatal especially to vulnerable populations such as the elderly. Dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections, kidney and organ failure.

As the number of nursing home residents increases rapidly due to rising life expectancy, malnutrition and dehydration among nursing home patients have increased as well.

What are Signs that a Loved One is Suffering from Malnutrition and/or Dehydration in a Nursing Home?

Malnutrition among nursing home patients first presents itself as more mild symptoms. However, if an elderly individual does not get the issue addressed quickly by the care providers, the lack of nutrients can quickly lead to dangerous and even potentially fatal health effects. Early signs to watch out for include but are not limited to the following:

  • Unhealthy Weight Loss
  • Tooth/Hair Loss
  • Lethargy/Disorientation
  • Deterioration of Bed Sores
  • Skin Problems
  • Worsening of Wounds
  • Loss of Physical Abilities
  • Sunken Eyes/Cheeks
  • Reduction of Muscle Mass, Weakness
  • Overall Health Decline

Dehydration among elderly patients first presents itself as more mild symptoms. Nursing home care providers should know and be able to recognize these symptoms in order to prevent elderly patients from becoming even more dehydrated, creating further negative health effects. Common early signs of mild dehydration among elderly patients include:

  • Very dry and sticky mouth (cotton mouth-like feeling), making it harder to speak and eat
  • Being thirsty/expressing thirst
  • Skin becomes dry and papery in some areas that tents upon pressure being applied
  • Urine output and frequency decrease
  • Headaches and cramping

Some later signs that the dehydration is becoming more severe include:

  • Becoming disoriented and agitated
  • Being unable to sweat
  • Having sunken in eyes and cheeks
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Falling in and out of consciousness
  • Becoming delirious

If a nursing home resident begins to show signs of dehydration or malnutrition, it is important that the staff quickly recognize this and seek professional medical care for the elderly individual, as the elder is at a much higher risk of harm.

How Does Malnutrition and/or Dehydration Occur in Nursing Homes?

Malnutrition and dehydration generally occur in four different groups in nursing homes, as there are a variety of factors that lead to malnutrition and dehydration among residents. The groups consist of physical, mental, socioeconomic, and neglectful malnutrition and/or dehydration. All of these are the responsibility of the nursing home that is caring for your loved one.

Physical malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes are a result of a physical impairment of the elderly individual that makes it difficult to eat and drink the proper amount of food and liquids. Certain medications can also suppress the elder’s appetite. In such cases, the nursing home staff must make sure that the elder is actually drinking sufficient fluids and consuming adequate amounts of food. The staff within the nursing home needs to be on the lookout for such impairments and medication issues, and ensure that the elderly individual receives the proper hydration and nutrition. Signs of physical impairments include:

  • Dental problems
  • Dysphagia (swallowing problems)
  • Medications that block nutrient absorption or suppress appetite
  • Lost sense of taste or smell
  • Abdominal complications presented as pain or bloating

Mental health issues can also cause dehydration and malnutrition among nursing home patients. The mental issues are not simply having a diminished mental capacity due to Alzheimer’s or dementia; however, that can certainly be part of it. Mental issues that can also impact nutrition and water intake include depression, which can suppress appetite.

An elderly individual can also be at risk depending on their socioeconomic status. This can affect the nursing home they are able to afford and the level of care provided there. The food that an elderly patient is able to afford will also impact their health, as cheaper food is often less nutritious. In many instances, an elder is capable of eating and drinking sufficiently, but the nursing home staff fails to provide adequate nutrition and hydration.

Socioeconomic factors can also affect how isolated the elder is at the nursing home. The more frequently the elder is visited by friends and family who look out for them, the less likely they are to suffer from abuse and neglect. It is also more likely that an isolated elderly patient will eat less or simply refrain from eating due to feeling lonely and possibly depressed.

Nursing home patients may also lose interest cooking or eating as a result of being in a nursing home, which can also create malnutrition. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the nursing home management and staff to ensure that all of their residents receive adequate nutrition and hydration. The nursing home staff must monitor and write down not only how much food and water each resident takes in on a daily basis, but must also monitor output as well. In fact, a lack of output typically signals dehydration or other health problems such as impacted stool or constipation.

What Groups are Most Susceptible to Malnutrition and/or Dehydration in Nursing Homes?

Everyone in the confines of a nursing home is susceptible to the neglect that is malnutrition and/or dehydration. However, there are certainly populations within a nursing home that are more vulnerable to such neglect than others.

For example, those suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment are at a higher chance of suffering neglect and abuse in nursing homes as their diseases render them incapable of adequately advocating for themselves and their needs.

What are the Health Implications of Severe Malnutrition and/or Dehydration of an Elderly Individual?

Severe health impacts of any kind can prove fatal to any elderly individual as they are more fragile than the general population. This concept is true for dehydration and malnutrition as well.
The severe health implications of malnutrition can include:

  • Decreased muscle mass: A decreased amount of muscle in an elderly individual’s body can result in increased weakness and fatigue.
  • Decreased bone density: A loss in bone density can be very dangerous, as it makes the elder more susceptible to fractures and breaks upon falling or hitting a part of their body on a piece of furniture, for example.
  • Weak immune system: A weakened ability to fight off and prevent diseases can prove fatal to an elderly individual, especially when they are living in a care facility and coming into contact with many people.
  • Poor wound healing: Inadequate nutrition may prevent a person from being able to heal from pressure ulcers. Consequently, a minor (stage I) bedsore can turn into a serious (stage III or IV) bedsore due to inadequate nutrition. When ​bedsores fail to heal, the elder is at an increased risk of developing life threatening infections such as sepsis.

In a nursing home, it is not enough to simply hand food to an elder. Elderly residents must be monitored to ensure that they are consuming their food and getting adequate nutrition. If they are unable to do for any reason, it is up to the nursing home to recognize this and make the necessary changes to ensure that the elder is getting adequate nutrition. If the nursing home care providers fail to do so, then such failure is ultimately a clear sign of neglect and should be addressed by a legal expert such as San Diego elder abuse lawyer Joel Bryant.

The severe health effects of dehydration include but are not limited to the following:

  • Seizures: As the severity of dehydration increases, elders are more prone to having seizures, which can be deadly.
  • Brain swelling: In severe cases of dehydration, if the elderly individual tries to quench their thirst too rapidly, the brain may try to store the fluid all at once, causing severe brain swelling and ruptured cells that result in irreversible brain damage.
  • Urinary tract infections: The body is unable to urinate regularly and, as a result, a urinary tract infection may occur.
  • Kidney failure: When an elderly person is dehydrated, their body lacks the ability to rid their body of waste in the bloodstream through urination and as a result, the elderly individual can suffer from kidney failure.
  • Coma: In cases of severe dehydration the person may suffer from irreversible health complications leading to unconsciousness, and ultimately death.
  • Bedsores
  • Death

Speak with a Malnutrition and Dehydration Attorney Today

Many elderly patients are unable to feed and hydrate themselves. It is the responsibility of the nursing home to assess the abilities of each resident and develop and implement plans to meet their individual needs. Inadequate food and water intake can have severe health impacts and even death. If your loved one was a victim of neglect, speak with the ​California​ Elder Abuse Attorney Mr. Bryant. He and his team can help during a free confidential consultation; ​call today​.

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