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Dehydration and Malnutrition in Nursing Homes

dehydration and malnutrition

Although most people want their loved ones to be safe when placed in a nursing home, the unfortunate possibility is that there will always be a chance of nursing home abuse.  For many, fears are typically for the most obvious types of abuse such as physical neglect and/or harm.  Yet, one of the most common forms of nursing home abuse in the United States is malnutrition and dehydration.  Between 1999 and 2002, approximately 14,000 residents died as a result of dehydration and malnutrition.


Dehydration is defined as an excessive loss of body fluid.  Per the American Medical Association (AMA), dehydration is rapid weight loss, in excess of 3% of the victim’s total body weight.  Dehydration can be caused from fluid loss due to illnesses, medication side effects, and/or a decrease of fluids intake.  For elderly people, physiological changes may also play a part in dehydration.  For example, older people are often unable to concentrate urine from the kidneys.

In nursing homes, dehydration most often occurs from sheer neglect when staff members either forget or refuse to provide enough fluids.  In a 1999 study, results determined that out of 40 residents surveyed during the study, only one resident was properly hydrated.  A good majority of residents in nursing homes are physically unable to get their own drinks, and may not be able to properly voice their concerns should they feel symptoms of dehydration.  Staff members must always be diligent as dehydration can happen quickly, leading to an array of other issues.

Once dehydration sets in, residents are at risk for several other medical problems, including a weakened immune system, worsened dementia, bedsores, ulcers, electrolyte imbalances, pneumonia, and a higher rate of developing infections.

Dehydration Signs to Look For

  • Thirst
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Dry Skin
  • Skin Flushing (red in the face)
  • Dark Colored Urine
  • Dry Mouth
  • Fatigue or Weakness
  • Chills
  • Dizziness, Faintness, or Lightheadedness

More serious symptoms include vomiting, difficulty with breathing, and seizures.  Serious symptoms should be treated as life-threatening and victims should get emergency treatment immediately.


The next leading form of neglect among nursing home residents is malnutrition.  Malnutrition is defined as the condition that results from eating an unbalanced diet that lacks the proper amount of nutrients or has too many of certain kind of nutrients.  Malnutrition can occur when there is lack of food, yet, in typical nursing homes across the United States, lack of nutritious food is usually never the problem.

In many instances, the wrong servings sizes are given out to residents, which will eventually result in malnutrition if these residents aren’t getting the proper nutritional intake.  Even when the correct portions are served, dental problems may make it difficult for residents to eat certain kinds of foods.  Additionally, elderly people are prone to appetite loss, so it’s especially important for staff members to adequately monitor and help residents during meal time.

Depression is also a growing concern in nursing homes.  At least 30% of all nursing home residents in the United States suffer from some form of depression, which can lead to appetite loss and refusal to eat. Medications can also play a factor in appetite loss as side effects of many prescription-based drugs make people nauseated.

Another reason that elderly people in nursing homes may become malnourished is due to not being able to feed themselves.  In these instances, feeding tubes are typically needed in order to ensure the resident is getting adequate nutrition.  However, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), hundreds of nursing homes are cited each year for inappropriate feeding tube insertions and improper feeding methods.  Not only are residents not getting the nutrition they need, but many are suffering from life-threatening diseases such as aspiration pneumonia.

Furthermore, staffing shortages remain a great concern in nursing homes across the nation.  When there is a shortage of staff, not only do needy residents risk malnutrition from neglect, but a host of other problems can occur as well.  Additionally, per CMS, an array of nursing homes have been cited for:

  • Improperly stored food
  • Improperly cooked food
  • Serving bland and unappetizing meals
  • Serving foods that should be hot at below-average temperatures

Many residents, understandably, will not eat, ruined, cold, and/or bland foods.  And they shouldn’t have to.

Malnutrition Signs to Look For

  • Weight Loss
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Swollen and/or Bleeding Gums
  • Fragile Bones, Muscle Loss, Weakness
  • Mental Decline and Memory Loss
  • Decreased Organ Function
  • Bloated Abdomen
  • Dry Skin
  • Tooth Decay
  • Confusion

Get the Help You Need

Keep in mind that both dehydration and malnutrition are life-threatening illnesses.  Without proper hydration and nourishment, the majority of elderly citizens can’t fight off infections.  This can lead to a variety of other medical issues, even death.  If you think your loved one is the victim of dehydration or malnutrition, report the problem immediately. Furthermore, get your loved one the urgent medical care they need.

Moreover, if you or a loved one has suffered any form of nursing home abuse or neglect, you should contact a nursing home abuse lawyer.  An experienced nursing home abuse lawyer specialize in cases related to nursing homes.  These advocates can help make sure your loved one is being taken care of properly. 

At Nursing Home Abuse Center, our nursing home abuse lawyers have helped numerous victims get justice  for themselves and/or a loved one.  Call today for a free consultation – 1-866-548-9636.