Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Home Residents

elderly woman eating - malnutrition in nursing home concept

One of the most important factors for the health of anyone, particularly the health of an older person who has other health challenges, is their nutrition and their hydration. Nutrition and proper hydration of all residents are things that the nursing home staff should be monitoring closely. Malnutrition and dehydration in nursing home residents is a major cause for concern as it can lead to a decline in the resident’s overall health, as well as exacerbate existing conditions. Therefore, this should be something that the nursing home takes very seriously.

Is Your Loved One Losing Weight?

Though there are certainly cases where a person may need to lose some weight, if your loved one is in a nursing home it is important to monitor their overall appearance closely to be sure that they are not losing weight unintentionally. Oftentimes, after being admitted to a nursing home, the nursing home may monitor their diet more closely and offer healthier options, which may lead to intended weight loss. However, if your loved one does not need to lose weight, or if they are losing weight unintentionally, it is cause for concern. Ask both your loved one and the staff if they have met with a dietician or are on a special diet.

Special Diets to Ensure Proper Nutrition for Nursing Home Residents

Some nursing home residents may suffer from conditions that cause their ability to eat to be affected in some way. In these cases, you have to make sure that the nursing home is putting them on a diet that is appropriate for their needs. Some examples we have seen through our work at The Dickson Firm include residents who have no teeth and need to be put on a soft diet. We have also seen residents with a condition called dysphasia which is a condition which makes it difficult for them to swallow. A resident with dysphasia, if not fed a proper diet, may aspirate. This means that they may accidentally breathe in food or fluids into their lungs, which can lead to serious problems including choking and pneumonia. Tragically, we have seen multiple cases involving residents who have choked to death on food.

Residents who have been placed on special diets need to be monitored when they eat. Nursing home staff need to make sure that they only receive certain foods prepared a certain way. Some other examples of special diets include low sodium diets, low fat diets, diets tailored to address cholesterol issues, or diets designed to avoid specific foods.

If you feel your loved one may need a diet more tailored to their specific needs, talk with the dietician at the nursing home. Ask if they have met with your loved one, done an assessment of their needs, and put together a care plan for their needs relative to their nutrition.

Next, you should visit your loved one periodically during meal time. You should make sure that they are receiving the foods they are supposed to receive and not other foods that are not a part of their diet plan. We have unfortunately seen cases on a regular basis where a resident was simply served the wrong food. A resident with no teeth is served steak or some other food that they can't chew properly, and in an effort to eat that food, they often choke.

We also see residents for whom the nursing home simply does not provide proper supervision. Some residents, because of their dementia or other challenges, need supervision while eating and it is important that the nursing home is meeting these needs.

If you notice that your loved one is losing weight unintentionally, check to see if somebody is helping them eat. If the nursing home is understaffed, oftentimes they don't have enough staff to help all the residents eat. Visit your loved one during meal times, or shortly after a meal time. Have they consumed all their food? Ask the dietician to show you the records documenting the resident's food intake. For a resident whose nutrition is in question, the staff should be documenting what percentage of every single meal they eat. If they're not eating enough, they can be prescribed supplements that have high protein or other nutritional value.

Another reason your loved one may be losing weight is simply because the nursing home is not feeding them the foods that they like. A nursing home is obligated to take your loved one's needs into account. If your loved one has certain preferences with respect to the foods that they like or don't like, the nursing home has to take that into account and accommodate them. If your loved one loves meatloaf and hates turkey, and both are appropriate for their nutritional needs, then the nursing home should provide them with the foods they like so that they eat so that they don't lose weight unintentionally.

There are a variety of ways to address nutritional issues and the nursing home should be doing everything in their power to ensure your loved one is receiving proper nutrition.

Dehydration in Nursing Home Residents

Hydration is also extremely important. Dehydration can cause a resident immediate health problems. Dehydration can lead to confusion, skin problems, and even make it very difficult for a resident to heal from an infection. Dehydration can also lead to delirium and falls, which can cause injuries.

Is your loved one receiving appropriate hydration? If they are able to communicate with you, you can ask them about their consumption. The nursing home staff has a duty to make sure the residents are drinking enough. If your loved one has dementia and doesn't remember to drink on a regular basis, the nursing home must monitor that, and make sure that they encourage them to drink. In certain cases, your loved one may need hydration through an IV.

Consequences of Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Home Residents

If your loved one is losing weight or if your loved one seems dehydrated, you need to address this with the nursing home right away as this can lead to health issues.

One of the most serious consequences of improper nutrition and/or hydration is that it can lead to skin breakdown as well as prevent the healing of skin breakdown. Skin breakdown, or bedsores, can be fatal for a nursing home resident.

If you have any concerns about your loved one's nutrition or hydration, make sure you consult with the Director of Nursing and/or the Administrator and/or the Dietician. If you're not getting a satisfactory answer to your questions, then consider moving your loved one to a nursing home where they are getting appropriate care.

It can be challenging to transfer a resident from one nursing home to another. However, it may be necessary so that they can receive proper care and be safe.

Contact a Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Attorney

If someone you love has been neglected or abused in a nursing home, please call us at The Dickson Firm at 1 800 OHIO LAW. We will be happy to talk with you at any time and we would be happy to help you in any way that we can.