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According to a new study supported by the Commonwealth Fund, over half a million nursing home residents in the United States suffer from some degree of malnutrition or dehydration. For elderly patients whose health is already compromised, this can cause severe medical problems, aggravate existing ones, or ultimately kill residents. Unfortunately, this form of neglect is common throughout the industry.
Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
The American Medical Association defines dehydration as an excessive loss of body fluid resulting in rapid weight loss. This can total up to three percent of the individual’s body weight. It is typically caused by a decrease in fluid intake, illness, or side effects of certain medications. In nursing homes, patients often become dehydrated as a result of neglect. Too often, staff members forget to provide patients with enough fluids, which is compounded by the fact that some residents suffering cognitive impairment will not remember to drink as well. Staff members may often not be diligent about helping patients who cannot eat or drink themselves.
Dehydration can happen quickly and once it sets in, it can be lethal. Additionally, dehydration can put patients at risk for a wide range of other medical issues, including kidney failure, a compromised immune system, aggravated dementia, bedsores, ulcers, electrolyte imbalances, pneumonia, and a range of infections.
The following are common signs of dehydration:
Loss of appetite
Flushed skin and/or red face
Dark colored urine
Dizziness or lightheadedness
If you’re concerned that a loved one is suffering from dehydration, a simple test for dehydration is called the skin turgor test. If a person is properly hydrated, when you gently pinch the skin on the back of the hand for a few seconds it will quickly rebound back to the hand. If an elderly person is dehydrated, it will take a few seconds to snap back. It is a simple and easy way to test for dehydration.
Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition
Malnutrition is another common form of neglect among nursing home residents. It is a dangerous condition that occurs when an individual does not eat enough food, or if the food lacks the appropriate amount of key nutrients. The following are some of the most common causes of malnutrition in nursing homes:
Staffing shortages: Feeding residents is an extremely important and time intensive task. When there is a shortage in staff, caregivers tend to be overworked and overwhelmed. Patients that require help eating may not receive the attention they need, which can lead to malnutrition. In addition, if a staff member is not paying attention to the particular patient’s nutritional needs, they could give the patient food that he or she should not be eating, which can cause serious problems, like choking to death.
Incorrect serving sizes: Nursing home residents are often given the wrong serving size, which can result in malnutrition. In addition, elderly patients often have dental problems which makes it difficult to eat certain foods. Elderly patients also tend to have less of an appetite as they age, and staff members do not always adequately monitor residents to ensure that they are eating enough.
Some patients are unable to feed themselves: A nursing home resident’s ability to feed themselves may be limited by their condition. Some are physically unable to sit up without assistance, compromising their ability to eat without help. Other residents may require a feeding tube, such as when they are unable to chew or swallow food. Unfortunately, hundreds of nursing home facilities are cited each year for feeding tubes problems, such as failing to provide the right amount of food. In extreme cases, patients can develop life-threatening diseases like aspiration pneumonia.
Food quality. In order to boost profits, some nursing homes cut corners and resort to serving cheap and poor quality food. In fact, many facilities are cited every year for cooking or storing foods improperly, for failing to properly heat food, or for generally serving bland, unappetizing meals. For obvious reasons, these issues frequently lead to malnutrition.
Depression: Over 30 percent of all nursing home residents suffer from depression, which can cause changes in appetite, up to and including a complete refusal to eat. Medications can also cause a loss of appetite, as well as nausea and vomiting.
The following are common signs of malnutrition:
Gums that are swollen or bleeding
Muscle loss and weakness
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