Sudden weight loss in a nursing home resident is cause for concern. It can a symptom of a serious condition such as cancer, hypothyroidism, depression, dementia, or gastrointestinal illness…or it can be a sign that a nursing home resident is being neglected and is not receiving the nourishment that she needs. Whether it is the cause of an underlying disease or a sign of neglect, nursing home staff have a duty to act quickly to prevent serious harm to or death of the resident.
Why Elderly People Are Susceptible to Malnutrition
Malnutrition is an issue that should be recognized as a potential problem in every nursing home because elderly residents are often susceptible to malnutrition due to the following:
- Sense of taste, smell, and overall appetite may decrease with age.
- Untreated depression can decrease appetite.
- Some medications can cause gastrointestinal problems or decreases in appetite.
- Ill-fitting dentures can make eating uncomfortable
- Swallowing disorders caused by dementia, stroke, or Parkinson’s disease can make eating difficult.
- Many residents are cognitively impaired and cannot properly feed themselves—even if they are being served a high-calorie diet
- Tremors can make it difficult for a nursing home residents to feed themselves.
Nursing home staff should be aware of these risk factors so that malnutrition does not occur.
The Duty of Nursing Home Staff
Nursing home staff have a duty to provide reasonable care to nursing home residents. This includes providing adequate nutrition for nursing home residents, assessing residents for malnutrition, and recognizing the symptoms of dehydration and malnutrition.
Providing Adequate Nutrition
Nursing home staff have a duty to provide adequate nutrition for nursing home residents. Specifically, nursing homes must:
- Provide food that meets the recommended daily allowances for nutrition. The nursing home must serve the food at appropriate temperatures and in a manner that fits each resident’s needs (such as chopped, pureed, cut, etc.). If a resident requires a device or special assistance to eat properly, the nursing home staff must make appropriate accommodations.
- Offer residents sufficient fluid. Fluids should either be provided in traditional ways, like a cup of water, or via IV depending on the resident’s needs.
- Assess how much fluid a resident is consuming. Each resident should be monitored for signs of dehydration, and if symptoms are present then nursing home staff should monitor how much your loved one is drinking or taking in from the IV.
- Account for changes in medication. Dehydration and a loss of appetite may be side effects of some medications.
- Account for short-term medical changes. A virus or infection, for example, may change an individual’s need for fluids or food.
- Provide food that is consistent with doctor’s orders. Some residents may be on restricted diets because of underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
The failure to take these actions can result in malnutrition.
Assessing Residents at Risk for Malnutrition
Nursing home staff can use screening tools to assess a resident’s risk for malnutrition. One such tool is the Mini Nutritional Assessment (MNA). The MNA was designed by practicing geriatricians with the Nestlé Research Center to assess the nutritional status of adults age 65 years and older.
The MNA was designed to identify inadequate dietary intake and protein calorie malnutrition (PCM). Left undiagnosed and untreated, these conditions can lead to weakness, muscle wasting, falls and fractures, and death. In nursing home settings, PCM has been linked to pressure ulcers, cognitive impairment, and infections.
Recognizing Symptoms of Dehydration and Malnutrition
Some warning signs of dehydration and malnutrition that should be recognized by nursing home staff include:
- Decreased or dark urine output.
- Rapid breathing and heartbeat.
- Dry mouth, lips, and skin.
- Low blood pressure.
- Sudden weight loss.
- Dental problems such as ill-fitting dentures, mouth sores, tenderness or loose teeth.
- Sunken eyes.
- Thinning hair.
- Wounds, such as bedsores, that take a long time to heal.
- Bruising easily.
These signs should prompt nursing home staff to take action.
Why Some Nursing Home Residents Don’t Get Enough Food
Staffing issues are common reasons for nursing home malnutrition. Specifically,
- Inadequate staffing can lead to malnutrition. There may not be enough staff available to take the time to make sure that each resident has had enough to eat. There also may not be enough staff available to assist residents who are unable to feed themselves effectively. Residents may be fed quickly, forcefully, or not at all.
- Improper training of staff can lead to malnutrition. Staff may not understand what they should do if a resident is routinely not eating enough or what the symptoms of malnutrition look like.
- High nurse turnover can lead to malnutrition. New staff may not know the unique feeding requirements of each resident.
- Inadequate supervision of aides can lead to malnutrition. Aides require supervision to make sure that nursing home residents’ needs are met.
If a staffing issue, or a staff training issue, contributed to your loved one’s malnutrition or dehydration then the nursing home may liable for the injuries that your loved one suffered.
Weight Loss and Malnutrition Can Lead to Dangerous Complications for Nursing Home Patients
Malnutrition makes it more difficult for seniors to fight off viruses and bacteria. They may become sick more often and develop life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia. Additionally, they may experience muscle weakness which can impact their strength and make them more susceptible to falls and bedsores.
Psychological damage can also be done when residents suffer from malnutrition in a nursing home. They can become depressed, withdrawn, confused and suffer from memory problems.
Has Your Loved One Been Injured In A Nursing Home?
If you believe your loved one is being subjected to nursing home abuse you need to speak with an experienced Kentucky nursing home neglect attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our office directly at 888.450.4456 to schedule a free consultation.