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Dehydration and Malnutrition in Nursing Homes – The Scary Statistics

The transition of a family member to a nursing home can be an emotional and confusing time for everyone involved. Relatives hope for the best possible care. However, the unfortunate truth is that many patients suffer from dehydration and malnutrition at some point during their residence in a nursing home. The most prevalent reason for this form of neglect is insufficient staffing.

Medical issues resulting from poor diet and dehydration include bone problems, tooth decay, low blood pressure and anemia, all of which can lead to death. One recent study revealed that an estimated 85% of nursing home residents do not receive proper nourishment. This study analyzed patients in over 17,000 facilities across the United States. The same study reports that 30% to 50% of residents are underweight. Family members can help prevent these types of neglect by knowing which symptoms to watch for, and by addressing any potential warning signs as soon as possible.

Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987

In response to the Institute of Medicine’s discovery of an epidemic of nursing home neglect in a 1986 study, the Nursing Home Reform Act became law in 1987. This act established the Residents’ Bill of Rights and ensured services to provide higher levels of physical, mental, and psychological wellness. Nursing facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid income require compliance with certain practices in the Nursing Home Reform Act. These practices include:

  • Thorough care plans for each resident, to be assessed periodically
  • Full nursing care
  • Rehabilitation services
  • Pharmaceutical services
  • Nutrition services
  • Full-time social worker services for homes with more than 120 beds

Staffing Issues

Certified nursing aides (CNAs) work closely with residents, assisting with activities of daily living, personal hygiene, and meals. Lack of sufficient staffing forces the nursing assistants to be responsible for as many as fifteen residents per shift. This often results in a lack of individualized care. This type of excessively heavy workload may prevent proper attention to residents’ nutritional needs. The understaffing epidemic in nursing homes has resulted in an annual CNA turnover rate of 93%, as many nurse’s aides ‘burn out’ quickly due to job stress.

Common Causes of Malnutrition and Dehydration

Lack of nutritionally rich food, wrong serving sizes, and poor variety contribute to improper nutrition among residents. Many elderly residents suffer from dental issues that can make mealtime painful. While staff are asked to note the caloric intake and eating habits during mealtimes, many are too overwhelmed with their patient loads to provide accurate information. This may result in resident malnutrition issues slipping through the cracks. Other factors affecting malnutrition and dehydration include:

  • Certain medications can stimulate or repress appetite, while simultaneously requiring intake with food. Without the staff awareness necessary to address this, the lack of both nutrition and medication efficacy have the potential to pose health hazards.
  • Bland, unappetizing meal choices served at room temperature can be a standard in many nursing homes. Facilities may be penalized for not offering quality meals.
  • Depression and cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s symptoms can effect a resident’s desire to maintain proper eating habits.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers

Discovering a loved one is the victim of nursing home neglect or abuse can be emotionally overwhelming. If you believe someone you love has suffered this kind of abuse, we recommend contacting local authorities immediately. Subsequently, you should contact an experienced Boston injury attorney to explore all legal options. At Altman & Altman, LLP, our trusted legal team is committed to the rights of nursing home residents. We have successfully represented many nursing home abuse and neglect cases throughout Massachusetts. Contact us today for a free consultation.