When our elderly loved ones enter a nursing home, we expect that they will be taken care of in their new homes. Nursing homes have a basic duty of care for the health and safety of all residents, and that includes dietary needs. Unfortunately, sometimes this most basic of responsibilities is not met by nursing home personnel, and residents can suffer from malnutrition.
Malnutrition or malnourishment happen when a person either doesn’t have enough food, or isn’t eating a well-balanced diet full of the right vitamins and nutrients necessary to sustain life. It is a life-threatening condition, particularly for people of advanced age and decreased health. One 2015 review article found that as many as 20 percent of nursing home residents suffered from malnutrition in some way.
How to Recognize Malnutrition in the Elderly
Identifying the signs of malnutrition in the elderly can be difficult, especially if the sufferer is already frail or suffering from multiple health conditions. Unexplained weight loss can certainly be an indicator that something is wrong with the diet of your loved one, especially when paired with some of the following potential warning signs:
- Skin tone can change, taking on a yellowish or dull coloration. The skin may also be excessively dry.
- Eyes may turn red and glassy, and the sufferer may have decreased vision.
- Inside the mouth may be a vivid red, and sores (cankers) may be evident. Advanced tooth decay or bleeding gums can occur. Oral thrush, a form of yeast infection, may appear as patchy white areas inside the mouth and on the tongue, as well.
- Cognitive functions can decrease, with confusion or memory loss (unrelated to other conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s).
- Limbs and muscles may become thin, weak, or limp, and activities of daily living can become exhausting.
- The abdomen or stomach area may appear bloated and swollen, even though the limbs are thin and weak.
Other symptoms are possible, too. Constipation or diarrhea, recurrent infections or an inability to recover from being sick, pressure sores (decubitus ulcers), or trouble chewing or swallowing may also indicate a problem.
Causes of Malnutrition in Nursing Home Residents
A number of causes can contribute towards a lack of appropriate care in a nursing home, but one of the most troubling reasons for elderly malnutrition is due to negligence of the staff. Understaffing is a serious issue in many facilities. Nursing home staff to resident ratios, though regulated by law, can leave residents without proper care or attention when there aren’t enough people to properly care for the number of residents. High turnover rates of certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and other nursing home personnel can also result in poor training and procedural errors that leave residents uncared for or mistreated, too.
Some of the most important responsibilities that nursing home staff should have towards their residents includes tasks such as the following:
- Nutritional monitoring to ensure residents are getting enough food and drink
- Assisting those unable to feed themselves to eat and drink
- Monitoring medication and side effects that may be affecting hunger and thirst
- Providing adequate access to liquids between meals to encourage hydration
- Making sure residents are socially and mentally engaged, to encourage good eating and drinking habits
- Monitoring the general health and wellbeing of residents, and contacting a doctor if there are issues
If you notice that your loved one isn’t receiving the care that he or she needs due to negligence or abuse, it’s important that you report it right away. Nursing home residents are often in poor health to begin with, and adding malnutrition can quickly result in severe illness and death, so fast action can be critical. And when the rights of your loved one are being ignored, it’s time to contact an attorney. Though a lawsuit can’t undo the harm that’s been caused to your loved one’s health, financial compensation can help recover money paid to a nursing that hasn’t upheld its duties of care, the costs of medical expenses for recovery from neglect, and possibly provide compensation for other damages, too.
To talk to an attorney who can help you with your nursing home malnutrition case, reach out today to the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger by phone or email. Our office is conveniently located in Columbia, and we proudly serve clients from all across South Carolina.