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Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Home Patients: The Silent Epidemic

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Between 1999--2002, 14,000 nursing home residents died as a result of dehydration and malnutrition.  A study completed in 2000 found that as many as 85 percent of nursing home residents nationwide were malnourished.  While there are varying explanations for these awful statistics, there is only one conclusion:  dehydration and malnutrition are widespread forms of nursing home abuse.


Your nursing home lawyer explains that dehydration is defined as the excessive loss of body fluid.  The American Medical Association describes dehydration as rapid weight loss, or weight loss in excess of 3 percent a person's total body weight.  Dehydration is dangerous because it can lead to electrolyte imbalances that in turn can lead to dizziness and falls.  More severe dehydration can cause dry skin and bedsores, ulcers, confusion and worsened dementia.  Overall, dehydration weakens a person's immune system and therefore increases their risk of infection and medical complications. 

Because many elderly nursing home residents are unable to get their own drinks or even voice their own requests for liquids, it is important to know what symptoms to look for when monitoring for hydration.  The following are a few symptoms that indicate dehydration:  thirst, loss of appetite, dry skin and lips, skin flushing in face, dark urine, dry mouth, fatigue or weakness, chills, dizziness, faintness or lightheadedness. 


Malnutrition is defined as a condition that results from eating an unbalanced diet that lacks the proper amount of nutrients or has too many or too few of one kind of nutrient.  In nursing homes, typically the problem is not the lack of food or even the lack of nutritious food. Federal laws regulate amounts and content of food.  The problem is in the lack of proper intake of food. 

Elderly residents can have dental problems that make eating difficult.  Medical issues and/or depression can lead to loss of appetite.  Tremors, dementia, or other physical impairments can make it hard for residents to feed themselves.  Unappetizing food, or having to eat meals at times that are not someone's normal meal times can exacerbate these issues and lead to even less food intake.  Some signs of malnutrition are: weight loss, muscle loss, weakness, fatigue, fragile bones, tooth decay, dizziness and confusion. 

When Abuse is Suspected

Dehydration and malnutrition are life-threatening illnesses.  If you have a loved one who resides in a nursing home and you are concerned about their well-being, ask whether your loved one: (1) seems to be losing weight; (2) has clothes that fit more loosely than before; (3) has dry, cracked lips or a pale-looking mouth; (4) has difficulty speaking due to a dry mouth; (5) often complains of thirst and asks for water; (6) urinates infrequently. 

If the answer is yes to a few of these questions, and there is no other medical reason for  the symptoms (such as an ongoing disease process or medications which cause can cause similar symptoms), then your loved one may be suffering dehydration and/or malnutrition.

Contact Jordan Levine Today

If you suspect nursing home abuse, contact Jordan Levine at the Levine Law Firm.

January 16th, 2015 | Posted by Levine Law, on Nursing Home Abuse

Levine Law, Denver Accident Law Firm

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