Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Homes

Malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes are a growing concern for both nursing home residents and healthcare professionals. Malnutrition occurs when an individual does not get enough of the proper nutrients to support their body’s needs, while dehydration is caused by inadequate fluid intake. Both malnutrition and dehydration can cause significant health issues, including weakness, fatigue, increased risk for infection, confusion and even death. Unfortunately, these conditions are far too common among senior citizens living in nursing homes today. But malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes don’t have to be a reality. There are legal options available to help ensure that your loved one receives the nutrition and hydration they need. 

Causes of Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Homes 

Caregivers in nursing homes are responsible for ensuring their residents are healthy, happy, and well cared for. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Malnutrition and dehydration are significant issues facing older adults in nursing homes across the country. Let’s look at some of the potential causes of this alarming trend. 

  • Understaffing – The first cause of malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes is understaffing. In many cases, there simply aren’t enough staff members available to properly take care of all the residents who need assistance with their meals or drinks. This lack of assistance can lead to malnutrition because residents cannot get adequate nutrition on their own or may forget to eat or drink altogether. It can also lead to dehydration if they don’t have access to enough water throughout the day or if they forget to drink it frequently enough. 
  • Poor Quality Food – Another potential cause is poor quality food. Nursing home facilities may serve food that is low in nutritional value, making it difficult for residents to get all the calories, vitamins and minerals they need from their diets alone. This can even be compounded by limited dietary options for those with allergies or dietary restrictions. In some cases, these residents may not be able to get any food that meets their needs without extra effort from the staff, which may not be available due to understaffing issues mentioned above. Poor-quality food can also lead to malnourishment if it doesn’t contain enough calories for a person’s age, gender, and activity level. 
  • Neglect – Finally, willful neglect can also be a factor in malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes. Sadly, some caregivers simply don’t make an effort to ensure that their residents get adequate nutrition and hydration — whether due to laziness or sheer neglect — and this can result in serious health problems if not addressed quickly and appropriately. 

Signs of Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Homes Residents

Nursing home residents are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, so it is vital to be aware of the signs of malnutrition and dehydration.

  • Rapid Weight Loss – One sign of malnutrition to look out for is rapid weight loss. If an individual loses more than five percent of their body weight in a month or 10 percent over six months, they may be at risk for malnutrition due to inadequate nutrition intake. 
  • Changes in Appetite – A change in appetite can also signal the presence of malnutrition. If your loved one suddenly doesn’t seem interested in food or no longer wants to eat, it could be a sign that they are not getting the nutrients their body needs. A proper diet will generally spur an individual’s appetite, so if this isn’t the case, it could be a sign of malnourishment. 
  • Skin Changes – Skin changes are another potential indicator of malnutrition and dehydration. Dry, flaky skin can indicate dehydration, while pale skin may indicate that an individual isn’t getting enough iron in their diet. Yellowing skin can signify not getting enough Vitamin B, while red or inflamed areas may indicate an infection or an allergic reaction to a particular food. 
  • Unexplained Dizziness or Confusion – If your loved one has been feeling dizzy or more confused than usual, it could indicate that their body isn’t getting enough of the proper vitamins and minerals it needs. 
  • Changes in Mood/Behavior – Malnutrition and dehydration can manifest themselves through mood or behavior changes. For example, if your loved one suddenly appears irritable for no known reason, it could be due to their diet lacking essential nutrients and water intake being too low to sustain the proper functioning of the body’s systems. 
  • Increased Fatigue or Lethargy – Calories are the body’s primary energy source, so if your loved one is feeling unusually fatigued or lethargic throughout the day, it could be a symptom of malnourishment. 
  • Dark Urination and Changes in Bowel Movements – Dark urine is a sign of dehydration and can be caused by not drinking enough fluids. In contrast, bowel movement changes such as constipation could indicate irregular vitamin and mineral intake. 

Complications from Malnutrition and Dehydration in Elderly Residents

In addition to the signs and symptoms, there are serious health concerns associated with malnutrition and dehydration in nursing home residents. Malnutrition can increase the risk of infection, reduce muscle mass, weaken the immune system, and lead to anemia. Dehydration can also cause fatigue, confusion, organ failure, and even death in extreme cases. 

  • Poor Wound Healing – When someone isn’t getting enough vitamins, minerals and proteins in their diet, it can affect the body’s ability to heal wounds. Poor wound healing can lead to infections, chronic ulcers, and other serious complications that can hurt a person’s health. 
  • Weakened Immune System – Malnutrition can also reduce the body’s ability to fight off infection, leaving nursing home residents more susceptible to illnesses and infections. 
  • Bone Loss – When an individual does not get enough calcium or Vitamin D in their diet, it can lead to bone loss and fractures.
  • Impaired Cognitive Function – Hydration and proper nutrition are essential to keep the brain functioning properly. When nursing home residents are not getting enough fluids and nutrients, it can impair their cognitive abilities and cause confusion or memory problems. 
  • Decline in Cardiovascular Health – This is a complex system responsible for transporting oxygen, nutrients and hormones within the body, so any nutritional deficiencies can lead to problems in this area. 
  • Higher Risk for Falls and Injuries – Muscles are often the first place the body turns to when it lacks nutrition and hydration, reducing an individual’s strength and making them more prone to falls or injuries resulting from a lack of coordination. 

Options for Victims of Malnutrition or Dehydration in Nursing Homes

When you entrust a nursing home with the care of your loved ones, you are making an important decision. Unfortunately, there are cases when our elders experience malnutrition or dehydration due to neglect. It can be challenging to know what to do in this situation but know that you have options available to you.

  • Report to the Proper Authorities – The first step should always be reporting the neglect or abuse to the proper authorities. Your first point of contact should be the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, and this can be followed by filing a formal complaint with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). If you need more guidance, you can read more about how to report nursing home neglect in Illinois.
  • Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer – If you suspect neglect or abuse at a nursing home, it’s best to contact a lawyer experienced in personal injury law. By enlisting the help of an excellent nursing home lawyer in Illinois, you can get the support needed to ensure your loved one’s rights are protected and that the consequences of this neglect or abuse are fully addressed. They can also advise on filing a complaint against the facility or helping pursue damages if appropriate. 
  • Take Action to Protect Your Loved Ones from Neglect – The most important thing you can do is take action as soon as possible to ensure your loved ones are safe and well taken care of. If their condition is severe enough, it may be necessary to move them out of the nursing home into another facility where they will receive better care or even transfer them back into your own home if possible. Additionally, when there are signs of malnourishment or dehydration present, ensure they get proper medical care and nutrition. When these costs add up, your Evanston personal injury lawyers at Rooth Law Firm can help you seek damages from the responsible parties. 

Accept Nothing But Health and Happiness for Your Loved One

It is heartbreaking when our loved ones suffer from neglect or abuse in nursing homes — but it does happen more often than we’d like to think. At The Rooth Law Firm, we support nursing home neglect and abuse victims and ensure those responsible parties are held accountable for their actions. We will fight for your rights and the health, wealth and wellness of your loved ones. Contact us today and let us help you get justice for your loved one.