Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Homes

Malnutrition and Dehydration are common problems at many nursing homes and hospice facilities. This could be caused by a lack of proper nutrition and fluids, failure by the facility to provide adequate food, medical conditions, poor hiring or inadequate staffing or inadequate medical treatment. Malnutrition and Dehydration can lead to infections, confusion and muscle weakness. People who are malnourished and dehydrated can have higher incidence of immobility, falls, pressure ulcers, pneumonia and a weakened immune system.

Nursing homes and hospice facilities are required to provide well-balanced and palatable meals that have the correct number of vitamins, proteins and calories.

Nursing home residents or hospice patients with the following risk factors have an increased chance of suffering from malnutrition and dehydration:

  • Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Side effects from medication such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or tiredness
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Mouth problems
  • Repeated infections
  • Stroke
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Tremors
  • Some types of medications

Side effects of malnutrition include: dull eyes, pale skin, lips or mouth, confused or disoriented (but different from that of Alzheimer’s), swollen arms and lower legs, unexplainable weight loss, and wounds that take longer to heal.

Side effects of dehydration include: cold, clammy, hot or unusually dry skin, dry mouth, no tears, increased or extreme thirst, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, reduced urine output, severe vomiting, and weak, rapid pulse.

Malnutrition is generally high, according to Relias Media, it is estimated that 25-60% of nursing home residents experience malnutrition. Relias Media also states that dehydration is the most common fluid and electrolyte disorder in nursing home settings, with approximately 1.5% of community dwelling elderly being hospitalized with dehydration annually.

4 common causes of malnutrition and dehydration in Nursing homes or hospice facilities

  1. Failure to provide adequate food: In nursing homes residents are required to be offered refreshments throughout the day. The refreshments, as well as meals, must adhere to the USDA dietary guidelines. Adequate hydration must be provided (at least 3 x/day) and beverages must be provided outdoors and in hot areas where dehydration may be an issue. Oral protein and energy supplements can be used in older people with undernutrition, or at a risk of undernutrition. Nursing homes usually have a limited choice in what they serve, and cultural and ethnic food preferences are frequently ignored.
  2. Medical conditions and medications: Chronic conditions such as depression and cognitive impairment are also major factors. Residents suffering from depression are more likely to experience weight loss. Poor dental health can also contribute to inadequate nutritional intake.
  3. Poor hiring or inadequate staffing: The understaffing situation at nursing homes is underscored by the fact that one certified nursing assistant (CNA) typically must help seven to nine residents eat and drink during the daytime, and as many as 12-15 during the evening meal. Another contributing factor is a very high turnover rate which can lead to inconsistent care.
  4. Inadequate medical treatment: Often this can go hand in hand with inadequate staffing and poor hiring as some of the signs and symptoms of malnutrition and dehydration may go unnoticed or not reported at shift change. This could lead to medical treatment being delayed or not administered at all.

If your loved one becomes malnourished or dehydrated at a nursing home or hospice facility, focus on taking care of them and finding them a new place to live, rather than dealing with deadlines and legal paperwork. Instead, hiring an experienced nursing home abuse attorney who can focus on taking on the nursing home or hospice facility is your best line of defense. Skilled attorneys have experience obtaining settlements large enough to cover temporary or lifelong costs associated with malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes.

Photo of Attorney Ben Wagner next to a window

Benjamin S. Wagner is a shareholder with the firm. His practice includes nursing home abuse and neglect, personal injury, car accidents, construction accidents, premises liability incidents, wrongful death and motorcycle accidents. Benjamin has successfully tried numerous cases throughout Wisconsin. Because of his significant trial experience and success, he has been certified as a Civil Trial Specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and as an advocate by the National Board of Civil Pretrial Practice Advocacy.

He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2003 and received the Phillips Owens Memorial Scholarship for outstanding academic achievement and community service.

Wisconsin Personal Injury Attorney Molly C. Lavin

Molly Lavin is a Shareholder with the Firm and a second-generation lawyer, following in the footsteps of her father. Molly focuses her practice in the area of general personal injury law. This means that Molly has handled cases with a varied set of facts. Many of her cases involve injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents. She has also handled cases involving nursing home injuries, slip and falls, sexual assaults, dog bites, pharmacy errors, and injuries caused by home or building owners and/or contractors.

Molly graduated cum laude from Marquette University Law School and received her B.S. from the University of Dayton.