When an elderly person loses 5% of their body weight or 10 pounds or more over a six to 12-month period and it remains unexplained, this is considered sudden weight loss. While these numbers are the established guidelines, any time your elderly loved one begins to lose a substantial amount of weight, you should immediately investigate the cause to avoid additional medical complications or death.
Sudden Weight Loss in the Elderly
When an elderly resident of a nursing home suffers a sudden weight loss and drop in body weight that remains unexplained, it may be the symptom of a serious medical condition or a sign of malnourishment or dehydration. Some of the common causes of weight loss in a community nursing home may include the following:
- Crohn’s disease
- Heart failure
- Overactive/Underactive thyroid
- Addison’s disease (of the adrenal glands)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peptic ulcer
- Ulcerative colitis
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Dysphagia (swallowing challenges)
- Dental problems
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Swelling of the pancreas
- Celiac disease
- Allergy or side effect to prescription medications
- Depression or Anxiety
- Alcohol or drug abuse
If your elderly loved one sustained sudden weight loss, the first step is to have a physician give a medical examination to determine if any diagnostic tests would confirm or rule out any of the above medical conditions. If you’re wondering what is considered sudden weight loss, it’s important to know that elderly residents suffer from medical conditions that cause rapid and sudden weight loss.
Sudden Weight Loss and Nursing Home Negligence
If your elderly loved one’s physician determines that no underlying medical cause accounts for their sudden weight loss, the true reason may be nursing home neglect or abuse.
If you’re asking what is considered sudden weight loss in the context of nursing home negligence, the reasons for elderly residents in nursing homes suddenly losing weight due to negligence or abuse can occur for the following reasons:
- Failure to provide water leading to dehydration
- Failure to provide food in a timely manner every day leading to malnourishment in nursing home residents
- Failure to ensure that residents properly eat the food provided to them
- Failure to provide quality, nutritious food to residents
- Failure to assist residents that have an inability to swallow eat their food
- Purposefully withholding food or water as a punishment or reward for nursing home residents’ behavior
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Failure to Treat Sudden Weight Loss
While the sudden weight loss may not have originated as nursing home neglect, nursing homes may still remain responsible for medical conditions related to sudden weight loss if nothing immediately occurs to correct the problem. Every nursing home resident should have careful monitoring of their vital signs and weight, in addition to being knowledgeable about what is considered sudden weight loss. If a nursing home fails to notice or fails to respond to a sudden weight loss in an elderly resident, an elderly resident may develop even more serious medical complications or even pass away.
Nursing homes have a responsibility and obligation not only to provide nutritious food that they ensure residents consume, but also to consult with medical professionals or a physician if they notice that there are any sudden drops in weight for a particular resident. Every senior in a nursing home has the right to have their plan of care implemented correctly, including those guidelines established by a nutritionist. Proper food and supplements are critical for elderly patients to thrive both physically and emotionally. If a nursing home fails to address a situation where a resident dropped a significant amount of weight, a victim or their family should hold them accountable and responsible for their negligence.
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Signs of Sudden Weight Loss
If your elderly loved one is in a nursing home, make sure to watch for the signs and symptoms of sudden weight loss. These signs of weight loss may include the following:
- Loosely fitting clothes
- Dry, cracked lips
- Pale-looking mouth
- Dry mouth causing difficulty speaking
- Constant complaints of hunger or thirst
- Dark yellow urine or frequency in urination
- Dry and warm skin
- Dry, red, furrowed tongue
- False teeth no longer fitting
- Mouth sores, tenderness or loss of teeth
- Thinning hair
- Wounds that take a long time to heal
- Disoriented or cognitive dysfunctional issues
- More physical weakness than normal
- Loose or dry skin
You should monitor your elderly loved one in a nursing home for all signs of sudden weight loss. If you suspect that your elderly loved one is not receiving enough food or water and is experiencing malnutrition in the nursing home, make sure to visit with management immediately. If you feel your concerns are not being addressed, contact Adult Protective Services, or even law enforcement if necessary.
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If you remain suspicious or concerned that your elderly loved one’s sudden weight loss directly results from the negligence of a nursing home, contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 842-6336 to help determine how to hold the nursing home accountable for their actions.