Hunger and thirst in nursing homes is a widespread problem, causing already-ill residents to suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, and severe weight loss. Too often a sign of neglect or staff incompetence, malnutrition on nursing homes threatens the health and safety of our loved ones.
Among the ailments nursing home residents suffer, oral health is not often at the top of the check-up list. It is, however, an important indicator of a person’s health and wellness, and may be the reason for general malnutrition. Some elderly Americans have not seen a dentist in years, even decades, rendering them largely unable to chew their food.
Many more elderly people have problems eating than one would imagine – it’s not something they want to bring up or complain about. The cost of a dentist visit alone may be preventing seniors from getting the help they need. One study found the percentage of elderly citizens with difficulty eating is as high as 40%, while other experts suspect the percentage is much higher.
Meat, for example, can be extremely hard to chew for those with poor oral health, threatening protein and iron intake. Some nursing homes puree all food for residents, however, this method diminishes the fiber levels.
Eating and drinking can also be made difficult or impossible as a side effect from various drugs. There are many reasons why eating and drinking is difficult for a nursing home resident, but pinpointing the cause of these problems is the first and most important step in fixing them.
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If the problem is not immediately obvious, either a dental examination or direct observation of the specific hurdles to performing oral care and eating or drinking can help illuminate the issue. Some residents can only chew on one side of their mouths because of pain on the other side, which can be a sign of decay or oral cancer.
Problems are often amplified by lack of or inadequate health insurance. Medicare and Medicaid do not fully cover routine geriatric dental care, such as cleanings, fillings and dentures, preventing many elderly people from getting them. This also leads to misunderstandings or misconceptions about oral care, such as how to properly care for dentures and thick handled toothbrush designs.
Even basic self-care is difficult for many nursing home residents who are rendered immobile or incapacitated. Many seniors do not have the grip strength to open the toothpaste bottle or hold their toothbrush, much less brush thoroughly and floss regularly.
The bottom line is, oral care is part of everyone’s basic health. It should be addressed alongside all other issues in residents’ care plan at their nursing home. Getting basic care to patients residing in understaffed nursing homes can be difficult, however, and delivering specialized care is even harder.
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This is why it is so important to ensure that your loved one is in a nursing home that has (more than) enough registered nurses and a low staff turnover. These are sure signs of a well-run, high-quality nursing home that places residents’ needs first. Families should always be a part of the care planning process, and complaints and concerns should always be addressed with respect and resolve. On a day-to-day basis, each resident should receive an average of four hours of registered nursing hours per day.
Our team of nursing home negligence lawyers has decades of experience fighting on behalf of injured residents and their families. If you have any questions about a potential nursing home case, contact our firm immediately for a free and confidential legal consultation. We take cases from all 50 states, and never charge any attorneys’ fees unless we are successful in your case.