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Tampa Workers' Compensation Lawyer > Blog > Personal Injury > Nursing Home Abuse: Malnutrition and Dehydration

Nursing Home Abuse: Malnutrition and Dehydration


Nursing home abuse doesn’t always look like bruises or breaks. Let us paint you a picture to illustrate. You walk into your loved one’s nursing home facility, greet the receptionist, and sign in for visitation. When you arrive at their bedside, they aren’t acting normal. They’re very confused or fatigued. They appear to have lost weight and muscle. They complain about toothaches when they have no history of toothaches. Lunch arrives during your visit. It’s cold, unappetizing, and has no discernable flavor. You feel concerned, and rightfully so. These are the signs of malnutrition, which can cause weakened immune systems, anemia, and even organ failure. Malnutrition and dehydration are forms of nursing home abuse that are important to know about because they are prevalent in nursing homes.

One study has estimated it’s likely that as many as 490,000 nursing home residents are dehydrated or malnourished. Nursing homes are strained nationwide by the increasing elderly population along with the COVID-19 pandemic complicating healthcare for high-risk nursing home patients. Staffing and training nurses at nursing homes are difficult because of both of these situations. Federal laws, like the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, require live-in facilities to meet residents’ nutritional needs. This means you can take legal action against facilities if it can be proven they are not meeting those requirements. But what exactly does it mean to be malnourished or dehydrated?

What is malnourishment?

Malnourishment is when a person receives too little or too many nutrients for balanced dietary health. The consequences of poor physical nutrition can cause problems with a person’s skeletal structure, mental health, healing abilities, and oral health.

Malnutrition can happen without abuse being the cause. For example, some patients use a medication that interferes with nutrient absorption or disrupts their appetite or ability to taste and smell food; that person is not necessarily experiencing abuse. It might take the staff and the patient some time to adjust to the new medication or loss of senses. The patient might be suffering from mental health problems that make it difficult for them to eat, like anxiety or depression. There is even a sociological link to malnourished people. When a person once loved cooking for social and cultural reasons, loses those connections, it can change their relationship to food.

Then there are times when malnutrition does constitute abuse like neglectful malnutrition. When someone is not being fed as a direct result of staff or caretakers not offering enough food or not correctly monitoring proper food consumption, that is nursing home abuse. Nursing staff should ensure your family member is at a 60-90 degree angle to eat. If you’re loved one has a reduced appetite, they should be providing dietary meal supplements in shakes or cereals. The facility should also try to make sure mealtimes are not chaotic and free of distracting noises or smells. Whatever the cause of malnutrition is, there are ways you can help them recover.

It is impossible to be by your loved ones side all of the time so here are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of them becoming malnourished:

  • Gifting them hot sauce or Ms. Dash to add flavor to dishes with reduced sodium
  • Build relationships with the nursing staff so you can touch base about appropriate weight ranges, if their appetite has changed, and if their mental health is being monitored
  • If you are able to be present for mealtimes, check the food to make certain the temperature, taste, and texture are appetizing

If your loved one is malnourished, they may have any of the symptoms we already highlighted in our opening paragraph. Additionally, they could have numerous other symptoms. Potential signs of malnourishment include:

  • Poor skin elasticity.
  • Edema (swelling of arms and lower legs).
  • Thinning hair.
  • Wounds that take an unusual amount of time to heal.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Paleness.

If your loved one is suffering from neglectful malnutrition, it’s possible to receive compensation.

What is dehydration?

Dehydration means the body lacks an appropriate amount of fluid within its cells and blood vessels to properly function. This is another condition that does not have a single cause. A patient’s memory loss can cause dehydration as they may forget to drink or drink enough when offered beverages. Some medical conditions make it difficult to swallow. High-risk factors that can cause dehydration would be fevers, diarrhea, and vomiting. If it is a short-lived diagnosis, there is no need for alarm bells.

However, if dehydration is consistent and no risk factors or related conditions exist, dehydration could signify nursing home abuse. Many of the signs are similar to malnutrition: tiredness, confusion, and irritability. Additional symptoms include dark urine, feeling unquenchable thirst, and inability to sweat or cry. If they have a bloody or black stool, an inability to keep fluids down, or diarrhea and vomiting that lasts longer than 24 hours, seek immediate medical attention for them.

If you suspect your loved one is dehydrated, give them water and monitor them for 5-10 minutes. See if their mood, physicality, and ability to be present improve in that time frame. If it does, they’re likely dehydrated.

How can you protect your loved one?

Be vigilant about their comfort and health, especially if they have a degenerative condition like Alzheimer’s disease. Visit them as often as your schedule permits, and ask them about their experiences in the facility. Trust your gut and listen to your loved one.

At Franco Law Firm, client advocacy is our highest priority. The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you are to advocate for yourself and your loved ones. Manuel Franco of the Franco Law Firm has been serving the Tampa Bay area for years. He is skilled in winning back your right to compensation for workplace injuries, social security, and personal injury. If you, or someone you know, might be experiencing nursing home abuse, please call us at (813) 872-0929 to schedule a free consultation.

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