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Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Homes

At Jehl Law Group, it is not uncommon for us to hear a client mention how his or her loved one is underweight, is not properly fed and is enduring the effects of malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes. Sadly, our clients are not alone.

According to a study supported by The Commonwealth Fund, nearly one third of all 1.6 million nursing home residents suffer from malnutrition or dehydration. Moreover, it was found that roughly 85% of nursing home residents are malnourished, and 30% to 50% are underweight.

To suggest malnutrition and dehydration are minor problems is an understatement. One of the best ways to recognize malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes is to know the signs and make dietary changes accordingly.

What are malnutrition and dehydration?

Malnutrition: Malnutrition is caused by a lack of necessary nutrients that the body needs to carry on. This may be a result of under eating, or of not eating the proper foods rich in nutrients.

Dehydration: Dehydration occurs when the body does not receive an adequate amount of water to complete its normal functions. In general, the elderly are more susceptible to dehydration, as fluid reserves are reduced and the body’s ability to conserve water decreases with age.

Signs and symptoms of malnutrition and dehydration

According to Mayo Clinic, malnutrition and dehydration can be catalysts for worsening health conditions, which are manifested in some of the symptoms listed below.

Malnutrition may lead to:

  • Dental difficulties
  • Decreased bone mass and muscle weakness, which can cause falls
  • Higher rate of hospitalization
  • Increased risk of death
  • Lack of desire to eat
  • Poor wound healing
  • Weak immune system, increasing the likelihood of infections
  • Weight loss

Dehydration may lead to:

  • Confusion
  • Dark urine
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Infrequent urination
  • Intense thirst

What is to blame for the epidemic?

As nursing home residents are some of the most likely people to suffer from malnutrition and dehydration, that leaves people questioning why so many long-term care patients are affected.

The Commonwealth Fund points to understaffing as a top reason for nutritional deficiencies. With an inadequate number of caregivers, residents who have strict nutritional guidelines are sometimes overlooked.

While each Certified Nursing Assistant is generally best able to serve residents if he or she is assigned two or three patients, oftentimes, CNAs are caring for two or three times that. During the day, it is not uncommon for a nurse aide to be watching approximately seven to nine residents, which increases at night to 12 to 15 residents.

High rates of turnover and inconsistent care are also recognized as culprits. The yearly staff turnover rate in the business hovers around 93%, indicating very few residents have familiar, well-trained staff caring for them and feeding them.

Complex, chronic health conditions, such as depression or cognitive impairments, can also play a role in malnutrition and dehydration. Residents suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s may forget how to eat and have a below average food intake. Under eating or a lack of desire to eat are often symptoms of depression.

Navigating a loved one’s stay in a long-term care facility can be difficult. Watching for signs of malnutrition, dehydration, bed sores and other medical conditions is sometimes left to family members and visitors. Therefore, knowing the symptoms of malnutrition and dehydration early on can better protect against further health complications caused by a lack of nutrients or water.

At Jehl Law Group, we believe nursing home negligence, especially in the presentation of a failure to meet basic needs by not providing adequate amounts of food and water, is never okay. We have spent years fighting for our clients in order to make a difference, and we would be happy to do the same for you.

If you or a loved one has been affected by malnutrition, dehydration or other forms of neglect and abuse in a long-term care facility, please contact us for a free, confidential consultation at (901) 322-4232.

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