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Dehydration While in Nursing Homes: What You Need to Know

Our aging parents and elderly relatives spent much of their lives nurturing us and caring for our well-being. When it’s time to care for them during their most vulnerable years, we expect a nursing home staff to treat our loved ones with the scrupulous care and respect they deserve.  The elderly should never suffer from a lack of the very basic, life-giving necessities such as food and water, but studies from two nursing homes revealed that 39 out of 40 patients suffered from inadequate fluid intake. In some cases, dehydration in nursing homes becomes severe, causing pain, illness, suffering, and death.

If your loved one is spending their final days in a nursing home, it’s important to understand the common causes of dehydration, how to identify it as a problem with your loved one, and what to do if you suspect your elderly family member or friend has suffered or died from dehydration or neglect in a nursing home.

Why is Dehydration a Problem in Nursing Homes?

Dehydration occurs in nursing homes when elderly patients don’t intake enough fluids to replace what they lose through urination and perspiration. Too little water in the body disrupts the function of nearly all body systems. Dehydration may be mild, moderate, or severe. Studies show that the leading cause of dehydration in nursing homes is a lack of fluid intake between meals. Other contributors to dehydration in nursing home patients include:

  • Staffing shortages
  • Poor supervision
  • Patients with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Patients with cognitive dysfunction
  • Lack of assistance at meal times
  • Lack of attention to the beverage preferences of individual residents
  • Medical conditions or illnesses that cause dehydration
  • A diminished sense of thirst
  • Lowered coordination making it difficult to handle beverages

Dehydration is the most common form of nursing home neglect. The chances of dying from dehydration as a nursing home resident are much higher than in any other population.

Despite the common problems in nursing homes that contribute to higher chances of dehydration, the staff at these facilities owe a responsibility to their residents to ensure proper care, including basic hydration and nutrition. If you suspect your loved one is suffering from dehydration or died from dehydration in a nursing home, an attorney with experience in nursing home neglect cases can help.

Signs of Dehydration in Nursing Home Residents

Symptoms of dehydration worsen over time when the condition becomes chronic. Eventually, it becomes a life-threatening condition. Family and friends visiting loved ones in nursing homes can check for the following signs of dehydration:

  • The loved one continually expresses that they’re thirsty
  • The skin on the back of the hands or on the abdomen does not snap back after a gentle pinch or it dents when pressed
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Dry, papery, flaky skin
  • Decreased urination or dark urine
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Delerium
  • Unconsciousness
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Brain damage 
  • Organ failure

Symptoms of dehydration such as confusion and dry skin are easily mistaken for natural signs of aging which may contribute to the problem. Preventing dehydration is essential for elderly nursing home residents. The elderly may suffer permanent medical damage or decline if they’ve been chronically dehydrated. Severe cases may result in death.

What Can I Do If I Suspect Dehydration or Other Forms of Nursing Home Neglect?

If you suspect a nursing home resident has suffered from dehydration, malnutrition, or other forms of neglect, make a report to the nursing home and speak directly to the staff members who care for your loved one, asking them to take special care to ensure proper fluid intake. If the dehydration continues, worsens, or becomes severe, file a police report and contact a Phoenix elder abuse attorney with experience in nursing home neglect cases.

Mistreatment in nursing homes is illegal. Your loved one has rights and the nursing home staff has the duty of care to provide a proper diet and plentiful fluids and ensure its intake.

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