Before you chose a nursing home, you probably looked closely at the care, services, and activities it offers. But did you check for a dehydration plan? Silly as it may seem, dehydration is a serious problem among the elderly, especially those in long-term residential care. A study of 40 nursing home patients found that only 1 drank enough fluids in a day. Dehydration can range from mild to severe, and in this instance, 25 of 40 study members presented health issues that are often related to dehydration.
Small sample size notwithstanding, the study puts numbers to a problem healthcare providers have known about for years. Though it’s true that getting proper hydration and nutrition is harder for seniors as a whole, a study of elderly hospital patients in the UK found that those who came from nursing homes were more likely to be dehydrated—a condition characterized by high blood sodium—than those who lived on their own. Why do seniors in residential care have so much trouble drinking enough fluids? And, what can you do if you suspect dehydration has caused declines in your loved one’s health?
Understanding Nursing Home Dehydration
Dehydration may be caused by excessive loss or insufficient intake of fluids, and symptoms of aging often introduce hardships at both points. Medication side-effects, decreased ability to feel thirst, and cognitive or physical disabilities may contribute to dehydration. Though nursing home care should be able to alleviate these concerns, the most vulnerable populations in residential care show corresponding characteristics. They are:
- Dysphagic (have difficulty swallowing)
- Cognitively or functionally impaired
- Unable to effectively communicate with care staff due to aphasia or language gaps
- Those with no friends/family to help them during meals
Worse, though caregivers for the elderly have long known that this problem persists, many nursing home residents still suffer from both dehydration and malnutrition today. 14,000 nursing home patients died between 1999 and 2002 due to these easy-to-solve problems. If you or a loved one is suffering due to insufficient care, we can help you fight back and demand compensation before things get worse.
Our nursing home abuse attorneys are here to help. Contact us online or call (646) 681-7055 today.
The Dangers of Dehydration
Most of us have dealt with moderate dehydration at some point in our lives. In its early stages, the condition can cause:
- Lasting feelings of thirst
- Dry or pale skin
- Dry mouth
- Canker sores
- Infrequent need to urinate
At this stage, drinking plenty of fluids will cause symptoms to subside. However, in more serious cases of dehydration, people may experience:
- Low blood pressure
- Fast breathing
- Confusion, disorientation, delirium, and hallucinations
- Inability to act in logical or expected ways
Severe dehydration can and should result in a hospital trip for treatment.
Hypernatremia and Hyperkalemia
Dehydration isn’t just about your cells not having enough water. A lack of liquid also causes electrolyte imbalances that can be fatal if untreated.
Hypernatremia refers to high blood sodium caused by dehydration. The condition may develop quickly or over time, and the earlier it’s caught, the less likely it is to cause damage. Treatment includes rehydration, either by drinking water or, in serious cases, use of an IV drip. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Extreme thirst
- Lack of energy, tiredness
- Muscle twitches or spasms
- Seizures or coma
Unless a patient loses a large amount of fluid in a short period, the condition can be treated before the most severe and harmful symptoms begin to present.
Another condition caused by dehydration is hyperkalemia, or high potassium levels. Excessive amounts of this mineral can be toxic. Signs of hyperkalemia include:
- Muscular weakness
- Flaccid paralysis (floppy or limp limbs, cramps or loss of sensation in palms and soles of feet, loss of bladder control, trouble breathing)
- Intestinal muscle dysfunction (causes bloating and pain, vomiting, and loss of appetite)
- Chest pains and irregular heartbeat
Hyperkalemia should be addressed right away. In serious cases, emergency room doctors may need to stabilize a patient’s heart before filtering potassium out of the blood. If a patient’s potassium levels haven’t reached critical levels, removing potassium from the blood through dialysis or imbibing fluids to induce excretion may be the only necessary treatment.
Arguments of Fault in Nursing Home Dehydration
Some nursing home residents may intentionally fail to hydrate to avoid the embarrassment of incontinence, or because they need help using the restroom and often do not receive it in time. Other times, caregivers may refuse them water near bedtime for the same reason. Both of these instances demonstrate improper care on behalf of the facility: Patients deserve to retain their dignity regardless of their condition. Patients’ attempts to avoid the consequences of poor care does not absolve the facility of responsibility for dehydration or any other resulting health complications. It actually shows that residents are experiencing emotional damage along with the physical harms of dehydration and other conditions brought on by neglect.
Sometimes symptoms caused by dehydration are difficult to link directly to a lack of water, as they may be illnesses of their own. Medical experts can help build a strong case, but nursing homes that want to protect themselves will fight back by arguing that aging individuals, especially those who need regular care, get sick regardless of their fluid intake. Because of this, dehydration cases are not always the easiest to fight—especially if you don’t have an experienced team on your side.
Do You Need Advice on Issues of Nursing Home Abuse?
If you or a loved one has experienced medical complications that you suspect are linked to dehydration, you should reach out to a lawyer as soon as possible. Medical cases like these often require high levels of documentation and evidence, and the sooner you begin gathering that information, the sooner we can help you build a case. Facilities that accidentally or intentionally cause patients’ health to decline must be held accountable for what they have done.
Call us today at (646) 681-7055 or reach out online to schedule your free consultation.