Elderly Malnutrition in Nursing Homes
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When you have a loved one in a nursing home, you are trusting they will receive the proper care and attention that they deserve. Too often, residents are not adequately nourished and hydrated in these facilities. This can lead to severe vitamin deficiencies and related health problems.
If you believe your loved one is suffering from malnutrition or dehydration, do not hesitate to contact our Chicago nursing home attorneys as soon as possible. Pintas & Mullins Law Firm is based in Illinois, but represents clients in all 50 states. We will travel to meet clients wherever they are!
Symptoms of Elder Malnutrition
Common physical symptoms of malnourishment include:
- Patient’s mouth turning a bright shade of red or developing canker sores
- Thrush or yeast infection leading to white patches on cheeks / tongue
- Muscle deterioration and fatigue caused by simple tasks
- Red, glassy eyes, swollen corneas, or worsened vision
- Yellowing, dull, or heavily-wrinkled skin
- Whitening of the skin beneath the fingernails
- Severe difficulty thinking clearly
In addition, patients suffering from malnutrition may experience severe difficulties with thinking clearly.
What Are the 4 Types of Malnutrition?
There are 4 types of malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization. This includes deficiencies, stunting, being underweight, and wasting. Each type of malnutrition stems from a unique cause.
Diet can have a significant impact on your health. Certain medical conditions and complications are more likely for malnourished patients. For nursing home residents, maintaining proper nutrition is key for healing. For instance, if patients do not have enough energy to fully participate in rehabilitation, they may not be able to fully recover.
Malnutrition can also refer to the excesses of certain nutrients, which can lead to obesity and other health conditions.
Nutritional deficiencies are when you do not get enough of a specific nutrient. This can occur when the body is not able to absorb the nutrients from food or if there is not enough food containing a specific nutrient being consumed. For instance, scurvy is the condition stemming from not having enough vitamin C. Certain medical conditions may make absorbing nutrients more difficult.
Stunting is the term used to describe someone who has a low height for their age. This can happen after frequent infections or from not having enough nutrition. This is not typically a problem within nursing home facilities, but rather for children.
Undernutrition or people who are undernourished lack food calories or nutrition. Typically, people are considered underweight when their body mass is 15% below what is considered the normal range for a person’s age and height. This is one of the most common types of malnutrition that can be found in nursing homes.
Wasting is the term for having too low of a weight for their age. This often occurs because of a lack of access to food or because of disease. This is also not one of the primary types of malnutrition seen in nursing homes.
Identifying and detecting malnutrition in seniors can be somewhat challenging, as many seniors have other interrelated conditions and take medications that can influence their weight. Some signs of malnutrition to look for include:
- Unexpected weight loss.
- Increased number of illnesses or infections.
- Poor blood circulation or feeling cold.
- Difficulty recovering from illnesses and wounds.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Feelings of depression.
- Irritable behavior.
This list illustrates some of the symptoms of malnutrition. It is possible that someone experiencing malnutrition will experience other symptoms that should be evaluated by a medical professional. The sooner that you can address malnutrition, the easier it is to find the root cause of the problem before the patient loses too much weight.
If the weight loss comes from another medical condition or as a natural part of the dying process during the last few months of life, your loved one’s doctor can provide you with some guidance about how to manage the effects. Your loved one could even require nutrition through an IV or other measures to increase dietary intake, if that is the problem.
Certain medical conditions that affect seniors may increase their likelihood of undernutrition. This includes dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and depression. Many nursing homes have patients who already undergo treatment for these conditions. Staff trained to work with these populations should undergo specialized training to ensure that these patients do not suffer the consequences of malnutrition.
Complications from Malnutrition
The complications from malnutrition are often more severe than the physical change in the person’s appearance. Malnutrition complications include:
- Increased risk of infection: Without the right nutrition, seniors are at an increased risk of acquiring infections. In many cases, it is also more difficult to heal infections.
- Decreased bone mass: Malnutrition can also cause a decrease in bone mass, which could potentially lead to bones that break more easily.
- Higher risk for hospitalization: Malnourished people are at a higher risk for hospitalization.
- Higher risk of death: Malnourished people are also at an increased risk of dying than those with proper nutrition. Simply the fact of not receiving enough nutrition increases the odds of something happening to them.
These are just some of the possible complications from malnutrition. For seniors who may also need care for other conditions, malnutrition can be particularly problematic. It could make it more difficult for them to recover or make progress toward a treatment plan.
If your spouse or parent lives in a nursing home, you may think that they are well cared for with all their wants and needs taken care of. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) estimated that a staggering 20 percent of nursing home residents have some sort of malnutrition.
It may be up to you to notice any changes in your loved one such as rapid weight loss and investigate the reasons. When you notice worrying signs and symptoms in your loved one, you will want to act in order to protect your relative from further deterioration.
Some of the causes of malnourishment in a nursing home can be physical issues of the resident such as ill-fitting dentures, medication causing malabsorption of nutrients, gastrointestinal issues, and chronic illnesses, to name just a few.
Sometimes, an elderly resident may suffer from depression, or the recent move to a nursing home reduced their appetite and enjoyment of food temporarily. Getting used to a different diet in the nursing home can also cause some weight loss.
However, malnourishment can be the result of criminal neglect in a nursing home. If you suspect that your loved one is suffering from malnutrition due to neglect, you should address this with the nursing facility immediately. It may also be a good idea to speak to a nursing home neglect lawyer.
Determining Whether Malnourishment Resulted from Negligence
The best course of action is to first and foremost speak to your loved one and ask them about mealtimes and food in general. You might want to find out whether they enjoy the nursing home food and ask them whether they receive assistance from staff at mealtimes and throughout the day.
If your loved one is non-verbal, there are other signs that could point to general neglect and lack of adequate staffing of the facility. Perhaps you noticed that general hygiene in common areas is lacking, or residents look unkempt and are wearing soiled clothes.
Another option to find out whether there is any neglect at a facility could be to visit unannounced during mealtimes and observe whether there is enough staff to assist the residents with eating and drinking.
Signs of a Malnourished Elderly Resident in a Nursing Home
When you notice any signs of neglect on your loved one, you will want to act immediately. Malnourishment and dehydration can go hand-in-hand in nursing homes and both are extremely dangerous for elderly people. Some of the effects of malnourishment include:
- Decreased organ function.
- Weight and muscle loss.
In addition to these effects, malnutrition can leave your loved one vulnerable to a host of other conditions such as infections, slower wound healing, and a general deterioration in health and body condition, amongst others.
Ensuring Adequate Nutrition of Residents in Nursing Homes is Law
A nursing home is, by law, responsible for ensuring adequate nutrition and hydration of their residents and may be held liable if it fails to uphold this responsibility. The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 specifically mentions the responsibilities of a nursing home when it comes to the nutritional needs of residents.
Not only are nursing home meals supposed to meet the nutritional and special dietary demands of each resident, but the nursing home is also generally responsible to maintain the physical well-being of each resident to a high level. This includes providing assistance with meals and making sure that a resident is well nourished and well hydrated.
Nursing home responsibility also, importantly, includes noticing any health issues caused by malnourishment in a timely manner and bringing them to the attention of the resident’s doctor, if needed. If you noticed signs of malnutrition in your loved one, or worse, your loved one already suffered from adverse health effects resulting from dehydration or malnutrition, and you feel that you are being met with apathy by the nursing home staff, you can take steps to hold a nursing home responsible.
What Causes Malnutrition?
Malnutrition is the result of a person receiving too much or too little nutrients to sustain basic health levels. It is an occurrence that may indicate that your family member is experiencing nursing home abuse or neglect.
If you believe that this is the case, you may find it helpful to speak with a nursing home abuse lawyer in your state. He or she can provide legal guidance toward ensuring your loved one’s safety while filing a compensation claim.
Causes of Malnutrition in Nursing Home Residents
Older adults are at a higher risk for malnutrition and dehydration than other age populations. Inadequately nourished nursing home residents can suffer further injury or your family member’s death.
While malnutrition does not always indicate that nursing home abuse or neglect is occurring, it is vital to investigate all instances of it happening. Failure to do so can result in your loved one’s continued suffering.
The most common causes of malnutrition in nursing homes include:
- Medical neglect.
- Neglect of basic needs.
- Neglect of personal hygiene.
- Social or emotional neglect.
Your loved one may have a health issue that makes it challenging to eat or drink. However, the nursing home should have a medical awareness of this risk if they are providing adequate care and attention.
Complications of Malnutrition Can Lead to Further Injuries
Malnutrition can lead to fatigue and weakness due to inadequate nutrients needed for physical and cognitive well-being. This state can lead to fall accidents and bone breaks, particularly for individuals lacking Vitamin D and calcium.
Without addressing malnutrition early on, it may lead to:
- Cognitive impairment.
- Slow wound healing.
In cases involving seriously malnourished residents, there are significant changes in mood and behavior. They may refuse to drink and eat, which can lead to death if left untreated.
Older adults require fewer calories and fill up more easily than others. Oral and dental health also play a role in the causes of malnutrition. The nursing home staff caring for your family member must address these medical issues. Otherwise, they expose themselves to liability for not meeting this duty of medical care.
The nursing home owes your loved one a duty of care by ensuring that he or she is adequately fed and hydrated. Nursing home residents experiencing malnutrition may be victims of abuse or neglect. Aside from seeking immediate medical attention, you may also seek help from a nursing home injury lawyer right away.
Preventing Malnutrition in Nursing Homes
The best way to ensure that your loved one is safe is to investigate any instances of malnutrition or dehydration. If you are noticing unusual symptoms or behavior, address them immediately with the nursing home staff.
Maintaining the lines of communication between you and the staff members is a proactive approach toward adequately caring for your family member. You can further support him or her by checking in regularly.
Malnutrition Caused by Abuse or Neglect
After investigating the malnutrition or dehydration injury, you might feel uneasy about your findings. Uncovering nursing home abuse or neglect allows you to file a claim for compensation on behalf of your loved one or his or her estate.
Injuries of malnutrition and dehydration may cause financial losses in the form of medical expenses, pain, and suffering, loss of enjoyment, or even wrongful death. It is unacceptable for you and your family to pay for injuries that a nursing home negligently caused.
However, there is a limited timeline to file a malnutrition claim. Therefore, it is essential that you act sooner than later to avoid missing your window of opportunity.
Malnutrition in the elderly can have serious consequences on their health and cause premature death. Malnutrition in a nursing home can happen due to many factors, some of which may be due to ill health of the resident, while others can be due to understaffing of the nursing home.
Nursing home residents may need assistance with eating and drinking. If there is not enough staff on the premises to help residents with all basic daily tasks, including assisting with eating and drinking multiple times throughout the day, malnourishment and weight loss can be the result. A study from The Permanente Journal found that 16% of adults above the age of 65, living in community environments such as nursing homes, consume an inadequate diet containing fewer than 1,000 calories per day.
Overview of Malnutrition in Nursing Homes
Malnutrition can occur from not eating sufficient amounts of food or eating food that does not contain enough vitamins and minerals. Nursing home food can also be bland and unappetizing for residents, causing them to eat less than they otherwise might.
It helps to know which symptoms to look out for in your loved one. Some of the symptoms of malnourishment include:
- Weight loss and general weakness
- Tooth decay and other dental problems
- Dry skin
- Change in personality and mental function
There can be other symptoms of malnutrition, so if you notice anything new or concerning you should speak to your loved one’s caregiver to find out what might be causing any worrisome symptoms. It may simply be an ill-fitting or missing denture, for example.
The next step, if you cannot get clarity, could be to ask your loved one’s doctor for advice. In any case, if you suspect that the nursing home is responsible for your loved one’s malnourishment and weight loss, you could speak to a nursing home lawyer to find out about any possible legal avenues open to you and your family.
Laws Protecting Senior Citizens in Nursing Homes
Our elderly citizens should be able to live out the remainder of their years in comfort and safety. There are several state and federal laws that protect the elderly from neglect and mistreatment. When federal funding was first established for nursing homes with the advent of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s, the federal government started to set certain standards for quality of care in nursing homes.
The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 was a major milestone for the protection of nursing home residents. It established certain rights for residents, for example, the right to be treated with dignity, and the right to be free of abuse and neglect in the nursing home, among others.
Importantly, the law also set standards for nursing homes. Under the Nursing Home Reform Act, nursing homes need to be staffed adequately and ensure individualized care of a good standard for each resident. There are many additional requirements, such as keeping accurate and updated medical records for each resident, and to ensure that each resident receives adequate personal care, medication, and nutrition for their specific needs. Several states also have their own laws that exist next to the federal laws governing nursing homes.
Despite all the rules and regulations, nursing home abuse and neglect still happens. Unfortunately, we can only guess the extent to which elder abuse happens. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) states that not only is there a lack of awareness and training among nursing home staff on detecting abuse and neglect, but the elderly themselves often do not report neglect for fear of retaliation.
It is therefore important that you take action to investigate further if you suspect that something is amiss with your relative or spouse in the nursing home. The laws can only protect our seniors when we report neglect and abuse, and hold those responsible to account.
Malnutrition Stemming From Negligence
Malnutrition can affect the elderly in several different ways. If not remedied promptly, it can lead to organ failure and death. You can help detect neglectful malnutrition in nursing homes by observing your loved one, being around at mealtimes, and raising any concerns with the staff of the nursing home.
Nursing homes can be neglectfully causing malnourishment and dehydration in different ways, including:
- Not assisting residents with eating and drinking at mealtimes.
- Not offering liquids or snacks when asked to.
- Not observing the unique dietary needs of residents.
- Offering sub-par food lacking in nutrients.
The effects of malnutrition do not only cause unnecessary suffering and illnesses, they can also cause added expense in the form of medical bills, as well as emotional anguish, to your loved one and your family. You might wish to take legal action to protect not only your family from current and future losses, but to also help protect other seniors from the same fate.
If we fail to take action to protect our seniors, some nursing homes will continue to put profit above the interests of their residents, causing unnecessary suffering for the elderly and their families.
If your loved one in a nursing home is not receiving adequate nutrition or hydration, this is referred to as undernourishment. Chronic and severe undernourishment can lead to malnourishment or malnutrition — a serious condition. The effects of malnourishment can be devastating to a person’s health. In some cases, malnourishment can be fatal. The following conditions and diseases are among the effects of malnourishment:
- Organ failure
- Discoloration of the skin
- Prolonged healing process due to decreased cellular function
- Severe weight loss
- Reduced fertility
- Developmental impairment and cognitive issues for younger individuals in developmental stages
- Increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory disease and failure
- Impaired immunity
- Loss of muscle mass and tissue
- Depression, apathy, anxiety, and reduced mental capacity
There are medical doctors and specialists, such as dieticians or nutritionists, who can help you create a plan for proper nourishment for your loved one and avoid these severe and sometimes life-threatening conditions.
All living beings need nutrients in order to properly function. Nutrients are generally found in the foods we eat and the hydration we acquire from water and other beverages. Sometimes people also take vitamins, minerals, and other supplements to help meet dietary needs.
Some of the basic nutrients human beings require include:
- Sufficient daily caloric intake
- Adequate hydration
- Essential and nonessential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals
If you fail to meet your dietary needs, your body cannot function properly. The cells, tissues, organs, and complex systems need these substances to continue doing the jobs that collectively keep you healthy. Individuals who do not obtain adequate nutrition over the course of time are at risk of undernutrition or undernourishment. Malnourishment is a severe and chronic form of undernourishment. There are many factors contributing to proper nutrition or the failure to maintain nutrition. One of these is dependency.
Not everyone is independent enough to take care of their dietary needs. Not only does healthy eating require a baseline knowledge of nutritional needs, but it also depends on your financial resources, ability to go grocery shopping, and several other factors. Some dependent elderly individuals living in nursing homes, for example, completely rely on the trained staff at their facility to provide adequate meals.
Elderly people frequently have specific dietary sensitivities and requirements as a result of their aging bodies. It is the responsibility of a nursing home or care facility to take specific needs into consideration when caring for residents. If your loved one lives in a nursing home and is showing signs of malnourishment, they could be experiencing a form of neglect or abuse.
Malnutrition in Nursing Homes
While nursing homes create a safe living space for most residents, the sad reality is that abuse and neglect can still occur. The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 requires nursing homes to maintain a high level of care to the best of their ability for every resident. If your loved one’s nutritional needs are not being met due to insufficient meal quality or quantity, this is in direct violation of federal law. If you are considering taking legal action or would like to know more about your options, there is help available for your loved ones.
Malnutrition – Inadequate Nourishment
When you make the decision to move your loved one into a nursing home, the last thing on your mind is that they could end up neglected. Unfortunately, it can be upsetting to learn about the reality in some of today’s nursing homes. If nursing homes are too focused on profits, cutting corners where they can, the care of the residents will invariably suffer. Having enough staff in a facility and making sure they are qualified to be able to assist, monitor, and assess patients could easily resolve this situation.
If a nursing home has insufficient numbers of nurses or aides, chances are that residents are denied assistance with basic needs such as eating and drinking. If this happened to your loved one, contacting a law firm that handles nursing home abuse can help to clarify your legal options.
How to Detect Malnourishment
The most important thing you can do is to observe your loved one closely every time you visit them in the nursing home. Do they look well cared for, or do they appear to have lost weight and condition? You might also want to pay close attention to the general appearance of the facility, for example, cleanliness, and whether you see staff tending to residents on a frequent basis.
If you worry that your loved one is not receiving the nourishment they require, look out for some specific symptoms of malnourishment that go beyond the obvious weight and muscle loss. Lesser-known symptoms of inadequate nourishment can include depression, fatigue, a weakened immune system, frequent infections, low body temperature, and slow wound healing.
Keep a close watch as some symptoms and diseases at first glance do not seem connected to malnutrition, for example, new bedsores. A subpar diet can also cause your loved one to suddenly become frail and suffer from falls and related injuries such as broken bones and sprains. While again, at first sight, this does not seem related to nutrition, it is important to bear in mind that inadequate nourishment has an effect on the entire body and can cause weakness, frailty, and a severely compromised immune system.
When long term malnourishment or dehydration happens, the symptoms of your loved one could become extremely worrying. For example, a marked mental decline or even organ failure which can ultimately result in death, according to The Commonwealth Fund.
If you question nursing home staff about any new symptoms, it might come as a surprise to find them act defensively and perhaps even blaming a resident’s decline on their medical issues or conditions. However, you always have to consider malnourishment and dehydration as a cause of health decline, particularly when your loved one shows new, worrying, and unexplained symptoms.
Malnutrition – Dehydration
Dehydration in the elderly is a real health risk. As we age, we become less resilient in general. This also includes being more susceptible to dehydration and malnourishment. Many elderly people do not drink enough due to the lack of thirst. Without feeling thirsty, many elderly people simply forget to drink water. They need to be constantly reminded and encouraged to stay hydrated.
Water is necessary for our body and organs to function properly, and being dehydrated can have some dramatic effects, particularly for seniors who can end up hospitalized once the dehydration is severe. Early dehydration symptoms can include:
- Dry mouth
- Muscle cramps
More serious symptoms of dehydration can be a rapid heart rate, confusion, and fainting. Fortunately, dehydration is completely preventable and can easily be prevented by nursing home staff.
Speaking to a nursing home lawyer can help you understand the legal obligations of a nursing home and how you could hold them responsible if they neglected your loved one.
Preventing Dehydration in Seniors
Preventing dehydration in a nursing home is as simple as encouraging a resident to drink several times a day and assisting them if they cannot drink unaided. There should always be enough staff at hand to ensure seniors are receiving assistance not only at meal times but throughout the day.
Sometimes, an elderly person might be resistant to drinking a large quantity of water every day. There are some steps you can take to encourage them and increase your loved one’s hydration when you are spending time with them.
If your loved one refuses water, you could change it up and offer them an occasional glass of juice or flavored water to entice them to drink more. While water is certainly best, any hydration is good hydration. Try to offer foods that are high in water, for example, salads, vegetables, and fruit such as grapes or melon. Hydrating foods can help with the daily intake of fluids required for optimum hydration.
Encourage your loved one to drink throughout the day, if you can. Make sure they always have their glass filled and encourage them to take frequent sips rather than drinking a full glass all at once, which seniors may find hard to stomach.
Also, consult with your loved one’s medical provider to ensure that they receive the right amount of hydration for their individual needs. There are some conditions, such as heart failure, where too much hydration could damage your loved one’s health.
Do consider that some medical conditions and prescription drugs require the elderly person to drink significantly more than generally suggested. When suffering from diarrhea, vomiting, or upper respiratory tract infections, for example, hydration needs may be greater.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published a study where almost all of a small group of residents studied in a nursing home suffered from dehydration and inadequate fluid intake. The study concluded that dehydration in nursing homes is avoidable with adequate staffing. Staff should also systematically offer residents their preferred liquids.
If your loved one suffered from dehydration and needed medical treatment or hospitalization, you may think about filing a personal injury lawsuit to recover medical expenses and get compensated for your losses. As part of a lawsuit, you will have to prove that the nursing home breached its duty of care to your relative.
A nursing home lawyer can help you prove your case against a facility by collecting evidence, for example, records confirming that the nursing home was experiencing understaffing at the time your loved one suffered from dehydration. A nursing home will almost certainly try to defend itself by arguing that they were not at fault and that another factor, for example an illness, caused dehydration. In this case, you might have to produce medical records and expert opinions by physicians in order to prove negligence.
Nursing Home Neglect Leading to Malnutrition
Often, resident malnutrition and dehydration can be directly attributed to the actions of nursing home staff—whether deliberately abusive, negligent, or overlooked simply because of understaffing. While malnourishment and dehydration are always dangerous, they are even more serious with the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Malnutrition can cause infection, immobility, bedsores, falls, worsening of chronic conditions like diabetes, and premature death.