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Find A Nursing Home Attorney That Deals With Dehydration/Malnutrition


Dehydration and malnutrition which are life-threatening medical issues in the elderly affect as many as two out of every five nursing home residents. 

Malnutrition means more than not having enough food to eat; it can be caused by an unbalanced diet or the poor assimilation of nutrients. Dehydration is when a person does not ingest enough liquids and their fluid loss drops more than 3% of their normal body weight. It can occur because of a decrease in fluid intake, a fever, diarrhea or diuretic-type medications.

The reasons these conditions exist in nursing homes vary: malnutrition can be the result of not enough staff to feed residents who are unable to eat on their own, or the residents themselves may suffer from swallowing disorders, food digestion problems or the inability to chew solids.

A third of all nursing home residents cannot eat on their own, and many of the rest need some assistance at mealtime. Some residents have dental problems which makes eating solid food difficult. There are also residents who suffer from depression or dementia who are totally uninterested in food and show no signs of being hungry or thirsty.

The elderly are at an increased risk of dehydration and malnutrition since they often fail to monitor their own intake of food and water and the nursing home staff may be too busy to notice.

Even alert elderly persons, who are able to feed themselves, often have decreased senses of taste and smell, which makes eating less of a pleasure and more of a chore. Because they are less tempted by food, they need repeat reminding that they must eat and drink.

It takes between 30 to 60 minutes to feed an elderly person and nursing homes are often too understaffed to perform the task adequately.

In state reports, nursing homes have been cited for leaving meals out of patients' reach, not giving residents the special diets they need and not feeding them a balanced diet.  Nursing home inspectors in Iowa reported that patients unable to feed themselves were wheeled out of a dining room with their meals left behind them untouched; in Texas, inspectors saw an aide at one nursing home struggle to feed a room full of hungry patients single-handedly.

A well-run nursing home will record what a resident eats and drinks. In addition, a responsible staff will ensure that any medically prescribed nutritional supplements are given to residents as ordered by their doctors. When nursing home staff do not chart liquid and food intakes, residents are at risk for becoming malnourished and dehydrated.

Dehydration is the most common cause of fluid and electrolyte disorders in frail, older people. Once dehydration sets in, other medical problems follow. For example, dehydration is known to exacerbate dementia, weaken the immune system and slow healing of skin lesions, bedsores and body ulcers.

The elderly tend not to get enough fluids in the best of circumstances. Advanced age is one of the major risk factors for dehydration. Persons between the ages of 85 and 99 years are six times more likely to be hospitalized for dehydration than the average population.  

Between 1999 and 2002, malnutrition and dehydration killed at least 13,890 nursing home patients nationwide and contributed to the deaths of about 68,000 others.

With the number of people in nursing homes expected to grow from the current figure of 1.7 million to 3 million by 2020, keeping the elderly fed and hydrated will be an even greater challenge.

Early Warning Signs of Dehydration and Malnutrition

As a result of nursing home neglect, dehydration and malnutrition are often found together.  Every individual needs a certain amount of fluid and nutrition to maintain health and life, especially the elderly.

Signs of dehydration and malnutrition are: sudden weight loss; confusion and disorientation; sores in the mouth and cracks around the lips; dry skin; sunken eyes; dry mucus membranes; fever and thirst.

Health problems and Injuries which may result from malnutrition or dehydration include:

  • Fall fractures due to weakness or immobility
  • Bedsores
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Anemia
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Anemia
  • Death

A person "at risk" for dehydration and malnutrition should have a program in place at the nursing home which includes assistance with eating and drinking, being offered fluids at mealtime as well as in-between meals and notification of the physician if signs and symptoms of these problems are present.

Who Can Sue

If you notice that a friend or loved one has signs of malnutrition or dehydration or if you think that they are not getting enough food or fluids at the nursing home   you should notify the nursing staff and the physician immediately to prevent potentially serious, life-threatening consequences. If death should result because of these conditions, immediately speak with an attorney handling dydration matters.

Nursing home dehydration and malnutrition neglect and abuse lawsuits are pursued to obtain compensation for those who suffered. These suits ensure that nursing home standards are met, the proper safeguards are followed and the rights of elderly nursing home residents are protected.

Below are examples when malnutrition and dehydration occur due to nursing home negligence:

  • Failure of the nursing home to employ adequate staff to properly feed the residents
  • Failure of the staff to pay adequate attention to residents who need assistance with eating
  • Failure of the nursing home to employ adequate staff to properly feed the residents
  • Failure of the nursing home to educate the staff on nutrition and feeding methods
  • Failure of the nursing home to provide proper supervision during meals
  • Failure to ensure each resident eats enough food to get the necessary vitamins, minerals, protein, and calories

Nursing homes sometimes try to blame the problem of malnutrition or dehydration on inexperienced staff, an uncooperative resident or unintelligible doctor’s orders. Such excuses do not let the nursing home off the hook. If you believe your family member has become dehydrated or malnourished or died as a result of one or both of these negligent abuses contact Injury Attorneys.

Instances where malnutrition would not be the fault of the nursing home are when it accompanies the final stages of disease, such as Alzheimer’s or cancer. Some patients may be already malnourished when they enter a facility; others simply lose their appetites after they arrive. And some nursing home residents prefer starvation over the slow ravages of disease, ordering their doctors NOT to give them artificial nutrition or hydration that could prolong their lives.

Although 1.7 million Americans lived in approximately 17,000 nursing homes in 2007, most lawsuits against nursing homes settle before they go to trial for the following reasons:

  • A clause found in many nursing home contracts -- a contract which the resident or their guardian signed before they entered the facility -- forcing all disagreements to go to arbitration before seeking court action. Failure of the nursing home to employ adequate staff to properly feed the residents
  • Laws in more than a dozen states which attempt to limit the non-economic damages recovered in nursing home suits
  • Extensive and costly legal preparation needed for these suits, which in turn narrows the number of attorneys willing to take them on
  • The age and/or medical condition of the typical plaintiff (if alive at the time the case is scheduled to be heard) is over 80-years-old and/or suffers from dementia, making it impossible for them to assist in their own case. 

Nursing home claims often have deadlines, so consult an attorney immediately if you suspect you have a case.

Interesting Facts

Some studies put the malnutrition and dehydration rates in nursing homes at 35 percent or higher -- a figure which rivals the malnutrition/dehydration rate in some third world nations.

According to the Health Care Financing Administration, dehydration was ranked one of Medicare’s ten top admitting hospital diagnoses.

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) was founded in 1997 with the goal of recognizing and responding to mistreatment of older people so that their later years will be free from abuse, neglect and exploitation. The INPEA sponsored a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, 2008 to increase global recognition of the problem.

The rapid aging of the U.S. baby boomer population raises new concerns about the stresses which will continue to be placed on nursing homes – stresses which can lead to neglect issues such as malnutrition and dehydration.

Since 1987, federal law has required that nursing homes address the issues of malnutrition and dehydration. Nursing facilities are now required to monitor the conditions of all patients to ensure that those who cannot eat or drink on their own have help in consuming adequate food and water.

Death records from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that bad nursing home care plays a larger role than cancer or Alzheimer’s in malnutrition and dehydration deaths in this country. In fact, fewer than 6 percent of the deaths caused by malnutrition or dehydration also were linked to disease. And malnutrition and dehydration caused twice as many deaths in nursing homes as opposed to people the same age living at home or in hospitals.

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