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Dehydration in Nursing Homes: A Serious Threat

Dehydration in Nursing Homes: A Serious Threat

According to the Journal of the National Medical Association, “Dehydration is the most common fluid and electrolyte problem among the elderly.” The NMA continues, “Age-related changes in total body water, thirst perception, renal concentrating ability, and vasopressin effectiveness probably predispose to dehydration.”

Though the above is medical terminology, it’s important information that all nursing home staff and of course, people with elderly love ones should understand. What the NMA is essentially saying is that due to age-related reasons, the elderly are naturally susceptible to dehydration, especially because a lot of older people don’t feel as thirsty as they did when they were younger.

Why Dehydration Can Be Deadly

Mild dehydration may not be a big deal, but when someone is dehydrated for extended periods of time, it can be deadly. The NMA mentioned that dehydration is a “common fluid and electrolyte problem among the elderly.” But what are electrolytes exactly? The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines electrolytes as “minerals in your blood and other body flu ids that carry an electrical charge.”

Electrolytes affect a number of bodily functions, including:

  • Muscle function,
  • The pH in the blood (acidity),
  • The total amount of water in the body, and
  • Other important bodily functions.

You’re probably very familiar with the common electrolytes, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. While many of them can be found in sugary sports beverages, they can also be found in your favorite fruits and vegetables and supplements.

Dehydration in the Nursing Home Setting

Younger adults don’t usually get dehydrated unless they suffer from heat exhaustion or experience a bad stomach flu or food poisoning, but for the elderly, dehydration, especially in a nursing home can be a very real and serious threat. “Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

In the nursing home setting, caregivers can neglect to properly hydrate their residents. If the resident has Alzheimer’s or dementia, or if they are very old, they may not be able to speak up and ask for a drink. As the dehydration gets worse, their life can be at risk.

Common signs of dehydration include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Dark urine
  • Confusion
  • Infrequent urination
  • Irritability
  • Disoriented
  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Sunken eyes and cheeks
  • Cannot make tears
  • Less active than usual
  • Bloody or black stool
  • Much sleepier than usual

If dehydration is left unchecked in a nursing home resident, it can lead to urinary and kidney problems, seizures (from electrolyte imbalances), and hypovolemic shock (low blood volume), which can be life-threatening.

If you believe your loved one was injured or killed because of dehydration in a nursing home or due to another form of nursing home negligence, we urge you to contact our firm to meet with a Columbia injury attorney.


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