Malnutrition and Dehydration Myths

While we can all agree that dehydration and malnutrition of an elderly person due to neglect is clearly a form of nursing home abuse, there may be differing opinions as to what malnutrition and dehydration feel like to the affected individual, whether artificial feeding should be commenced and whether someone should be allowed to starve to death. These issues are complex because most people can only think about them through their own personal experiences and beliefs.

Take The Sensation of Hunger For An Example

To most adults, hunger is a pang in the stomach and thirst is a dry sensation of the tongue, mouth and lips. When we are hungry, and yet unable to feed ourselves, we begin to feel famished. Our stomachs ache and grumble and whine to be fed. Our thoughts also shift to fixate on food and we have trouble focusing on anything else. We are hungry, and it is an all-consuming state of being. However, for some elderly people of advanced age, hunger no longer feels like that. Some elderly people have no sense of hunger, or a very diminished sense of being hungry. This can be due to many different factors. For instance, age diminishes a person’s sense of smell and enhances the ability to taste. This can make food that was once appetizing seem now very unappetizing.

Smell is very important to the brain’s perception of good tastes and pleasure, so when one’s sense of smell no longer functions very well, he or she may not be as interested in eating food. Similarly, taste is important to how much a person enjoys food. If tastes become amplified as one ages, flavors in food could become overwhelming and unpleasant. Imagine, for a moment, how overwhelmed your senses are when you eat spicy food that is outside of the scope of heat you can normally handle. You take one bite and are so overloaded with heat that you no longer want to eat that meal. This is effectively what has happened to some older people who don’t eat enough to stay healthy.

Forced Feeding As A Solution

Some people advocate for the forced feeding of nursing home residents who will not eat enough. This can be facilitated by the insertion of a feeding tube either down the resident’s throat via the nose, or through the sidewall of the stomach. A feeding tube allows for adequate nutrients to be passed directly to the stomach, without the individual ever having to eat. However, a feeding tube is a medical device that must be inserted into the body, which is highly invasive to the resident. These devices can also be incredibly uncomfortable, and even painful, and have a risk of causing severe problems such as infections developed at the insertion site, or the tube becoming dislodged from the stomach.

You Can’t Let Them Starve

Technically, if the individual who is not eating has a do not resuscitate order in place refusing the artificial administration of nutrition and/or hydration, medical professionals must honor the order. Since the do not resuscitate order indicates the person’s end of life care decisions, he or she can deny force feeding procedures, even though such procedures could sustain life.

If you or a loved one has suffered from malnutrition or dehydration at the hands of his or her caregivers in the nursing home in which he or she resides, you should contact a nursing home abuse and neglect attorney as soon as possible to voice your concerns. Please feel free to contact the experienced attorneys at The Rooth Law Firm either online or by telephone today by calling 877-356-3007.

Photo Credit: stevendepolo via Compfight cc


Comfort Care Choices, Dehydration & Starvation – Myths & Realities, May 11, 2010