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Malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes. Yes, it happens

The issues of malnutrition and dehydration in nursing homes were troubling enough to warrant attention from the U.S. Congress. In 1987, Congress passed the Nutrition and Nursing Home Reform Act, which requires nursing homes to "assess the nutritional status" of their residents upon arrival and every three months an individual resides in the facility.

You might think that this would have eliminated these issues in nursing homes, but 40 percent of all nursing home residents continue to suffer from malnutrition and dehydration. The question is why. In addition, if you discover your aging loved one is suffering, what can you do about it?

How does this happen?

Food is everywhere in our society, so how is it possible that nursing home residents -- whose needs are to be provided for by nursing home administrators and staff members -- go hungry and thirsty to the point where it causes health problems? Numerous factors, such as those outlined below, can lead to this sad state of affairs:

  • Lack of individualized care
  • Lack of assistance from nursing home staff members
  • Lack of attention from nursing home staff members
  • Lack of mental or sensory stimulation
  • Lack of exercise and fresh air
  • Lack of adequate training of staff members regarding how to assist residents with feeding issues
  • Relying too heavily on liquid supplements instead of nutritional meals to provide vitamins and nutrients to residents
  • Lack of appetizing food served at the appropriate temperatures
  • Lack of a relaxing and pleasant dining room to encourage eating

These are just some of the issues that can lead to your loved one suffering from malnutrition or dehydration. When you visit, you may want to conduct your own "inspection" of the dining room for cleanliness. Look at the food offered by the nursing home to see if it's appetizing and edible. Ask whether healthy snacks and drinks are available when a resident wants them.

If your loved one requires a special diet, you may need to make sure that he or she receives it. The nursing home should be abiding by the orders of your loved one's doctors when it comes to nutrition. It may be up to you to clear up any misunderstandings that could get your loved one's diet back on track.

What happens if the conditions caused the problem?

If you are unable to work out a satisfactory resolution to any issues you see with the way the nursing home and its staff members handle the dietary needs of your loved one, you may benefit from discussing the matter with officials and an attorney. Your loved one deserves treatment with respect and dignity. A malnourished or dehydrated state does not reflect the quality of care you anticipated.

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