If an elderly person or their loved one decides that residential care is the best option, it is typically because the older adult can no longer care for themselves. As such, it is crucial that nursing home residents are monitored and taken care of, in terms of both basic-living and medical necessities. When someone living in a nursing home exhibits signs of malnutrition and/or dehydration, remedial action must be taken immediately.
Assessing and Caring for Nutritional Health
Malnutrition and dehydration can be identified with a simple lab test. Under the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 and 42 U.S. Code § 1395i–3, federal law requires nursing homes to assess and monitor the nutritional status of residents. Assessments must be performed at the time of entry and every three months thereafter. Nursing home staff are required to provide residents with “well-balanced, palatable” meals that look appealing and are served at appropriate temperatures. They must also offer substitutes with comparable nutritional values to residents who refuse meals.
Simply put, nursing homes are legally responsible for the nutritional health of their residents.
Causes of Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Homes
Seniors who are physically or psychologically ill may have a more difficult time maintaining proper nourishment. Mouth problems, swallowing disorders, and adverse side effects from drugs may discourage a resident from eating or drinking. Still, it is up to nursing home staff to be attentive and provide assistance to their residents. Loss of appetite may come from a number of factors, many of which, like depression, can be mitigated or prevented by staff.
If a nursing home did not take every possible step to provide food and water to your loved one, they can likely be held responsible for negligence. Missed steps often include:
- Attending to and assisting residents who have trouble eating
- Providing individualized care to assess nutritional problems and solutions
- Exposing residents to fresh air
- Ensuring residents have sensory and mental stimulation
- Recognizing cultural differences and foods that a resident may not be accustomed to eating
- Offering alternatives to unappetizing specialized diets or cold food
- Maintaining a pleasant and calm dining room environment
- Providing fresh water within reach and open access to milk, juice, and liquid supplements
- Administering tube feedings
- Providing appropriate oral care prior to meals
Consequences of Malnutrition and Dehydration
Forty percent of nursing home residents are malnourished or dehydrated. Malnutrition and dehydration are dangerous medical conditions that can lead to illness and infection, lack of mental sharpness, and muscle weakness. In severe cases, malnutrition and dehydration may lead to premature death. Because of this, it is important to spot the signs and symptoms early-on.
Signs and Symptoms
Visiting regularly and listening to the complaints of your loved one is an excellent way to identify potential problems. If your elderly friend or relative seems confused, complains of thirst and asks for water, tells you that he/she is hungry, or complains that their false teeth no longer fit, they may be suffering from dehydration or malnutrition.
If your loved one exhibits any of the following symptoms, it is important to intervene right away.
- Weight loss or loose-fitting clothes
- Dry, cracked lips or a pale-looking mouth
- Difficulty speaking
- Infrequent and dark yellow urination
- Skin that feels warm and dry to the touch
- A bright red, furrowed tongue
- Thinning hair
- Wounds that take longer to heal
- Skin that is breaking down, or seems looser or drier than usual
- Weak or disoriented appearance
Remedying the Situation
If you are fortunate enough to spot dehydration or malnutrition before anything catastrophic happens, or symptoms become severe, you may be able to intervene directly. Paying a visit to your loved one can help you asses what’s wrong, and you may be able to help them eat or drink yourself. Maybe he or she feels rushed or uncomfortable during meals, misses foods they used to eat at home, needs privacy or special company while eating, or prefers to have snacks instead. Once you find out what’s wrong, you can ask for a care planning conference and work with the nursing home to develop solutions.
Pursuing Legal Action
In the event that your loved one is in danger or has already suffered harm, please do not hesitate to call our nursing home abuse attorneys today.
We can be reached by phone at (800) 328-2630 or contacted online for a free case review.