Dehydration

By: Greg Hach

Dehydration is a regrettably frequent occurrence among nursing home residents. A study of 40 nursing home patients found that 39 were dehydrated and 25 had illnesses that may have occurred as a result of dehydration. Dehydration can be prevented by fluid intake, however, some patients have difficulty voicing their needs and are incapable of procuring water for themselves. In these situations, it is the responsibility of the nursing home staff to monitor the patient’s fluid consumption. Dehydration is one of the most common forms of nursing home neglect and a patient’s hydration levels should never be ignored, as dehydration can lead to a variety of medical complications.

Dehydration is a loss of water that interrupts the body’s normal function and occurs when the body uses more water than it takes in. After a short period of dehydration, the body will begin to show minor symptoms. As the condition worsens, it may eventually cause severe illness or aggravate an individual’s prior conditions. Initial symptoms of dehydration include: thirst, dry skin, decreased urination, weakness, a swollen tongue, and a dry and sticky mouth. When a patient is dehydrated for an extended period of time, severe and cognitive symptoms will present themselves, including: confusion, irritability, dizziness, palpitations, sluggishness, fainting, a lack of sweating, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, rapid breathing, unconsciousness, and delirium. Complications that arise from long term dehydration include seizures, swelling of the brain, kidney failure, coma, and even death.

In order to prevent dehydration, nursing home staff must routinely check in with patients to make sure that their nutritional needs are being met. Special care should be given to those who are bedridden because they are more likely to become dehydrated. Additionally, diuretics have a tendency to increase the likelihood of dehydration, so patients taking these medications should be provided with extra fluids.

The staff replacement rate at nursing homes is well above the national turnover average. As a result, many staff members are new, with little experience and training. It takes new staff members more time to perform routine tasks, so they may check in on patients less often. Understaffing is also an overwhelming problem in nursing homes. It is recommended that staff members help at maximum three patients during mealtime, yet the average staff member to patient ratio is 12:1. Consequently, patients do not receive the necessary attention and are more likely to become dehydrated.

In its early stages, dehydration is easily cured. A dehydrated individual should not intake fluid too quickly, since this can lead to swelling of the brain; rather, a patient should take small sips of water. If a patient is severely dehydrated and is exhibiting high body temperature, elevated resting heart rate, or low blood pressure, he or she should be immediately transferred to a hospital emergency room where a healthcare professional will administer an IV to transfer fluids to the patient.

If you or a loved one has been harmed due to dehydration or has been a victim of nursing home neglect, contact the attorneys at Hach & Rose, LLP, by calling (212) 779-0057 for a free consultation.

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