Dehydration in elderly patients is one manifestation of nursing home neglect and abuse. It can compromise health and even lead to wrongful death. Even if it does not contribute directly, dehydration in elderly patients increases the chances that they will succumb to other conditions including infections, illnesses, and injuries.
If your loved one resides in a long-term care facility, it is a good idea to know the signs of dehydration and follow up with staff regarding their care routine if you notice symptoms. While a failure to keep patients adequately hydrated may not be intentional, it can still be an actionable claim in civil court.
What is Dehydration?
Dehydration results when an individual loses more fluid than they consume. Being hydrated allows for good body temperature regulation, body waste elimination, and lower blood pressure. Adequate hydration is critical for elderly patients due to their vulnerable health status. Dehydration can cause a wide variety of ailments, including increased heart rate and blood pressure and kidney problems.
The elderly are prone to dehydration even if they do not live in a nursing home. As people grow older, thirst signals may become unclear. This is more pronounced if a patient suffers dementia or has difficulty swallowing. Fluid loss through vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating can make dehydration more likely, as can decreased ability to keep food and liquids down.
People who remain able to care for themselves often get into the habit of drinking water frequently even when they are not thirsty. This is a good habit to have and these individuals often have a better sense of overall wellness.
However, once individuals become dependent on others for basic care including eating and drinking, the risk of dehydration increases. This is especially true if overworked and underpaid nursing home staff are the only ones responsible for assuring your loved one is properly nourished.
What Are the Symptoms of Dehydration in Elderly Patients?
The common symptoms of dehydration include but are not limited to:
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
There are also more serious and less common symptoms:
- Sunken eyes
- Skin tears
- Dry eyes
- Dry or sticky mucous membranes
If you notice these symptoms, ask the staff about hydration routines. This is especially important if your loved one suffers from a kidney condition or requires a medication that causes dehydration. Sometimes, these conditions are not considered when setting a hydration routine for a patient.
What Are the Effects of Excessive and Prolonged Dehydration in Elderly Patients?
One serious effect is hypernatremia, or increased sodium levels in blood. This is a common contributor in hospital deaths, and nursing home residents who suffer a fracture or illness are more likely to die if they are dehydrated at the time of admission.
Pneumonia is also common among dehydrated patients. Most healthy people can make a full recovery from pneumonia but more vulnerable populations, like the elderly, frequently die from it. Kidney failure and urinary tract or bladder infections also arise from dehydration and like pneumonia, may severely compromise an elderly patient’s health.
Dehydrated patients are also more likely to develop bed sores. These can also become infected and lead to severe health conditions and in some cases, death. Dehydrated patients may need to be placed on IV care for a period of time, or patients who are unable to take in enough liquid on their own may need a PICC line or port placed that allows for fast and frequent IV fusion therapy.
Can Nursing Homes Be Held Responsible?
In many cases, nursing homes can be held liable for damages in instances of nursing home neglect or abuse, including cases of dehydration if any serious health complications arise.
Nursing homes can be considered responsible if patients who need IV therapy do not receive it in a timely manner and as a result become dehydrated. Or in some instances, patients may be afraid to drink. For example, if your loved one knows they will wait hours until someone helps them to the bathroom, they may avoid drinking fluids.
Additionally, a failure to notice other health conditions contributing to dehydration may give way to a medical malpractice claim. If a resident develops a fever or diarrhea, that is a sign they require more fluids than normal. Care providers should ensure that they receive extra fluids and failure to do so can be considered negligence.
Contact a Massachusetts Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Today
Mazow | McCullough, PC offers the compassion and expertise to help you with your nursing home abuse claim. Contact our office today to schedule a free case evaluation by calling 1-855-693-9084.