Why nutrition matters in nursing homes

Malnutrition and dehydration are two issues in nursing homes that deserve careful attention, as they can mean the difference between life and death.

Nursing home abuse occurs in a variety of ways in New Jersey. For example, there can be physical abuse that results in broken bones. Emotional abuse can also occur, perhaps when a nurse harangues a resident or tries to isolate residents from their families. Sexual abuse, too, is a reality for some nursing home patients. However, one area that might not get enough attention is malnutrition and dehydration. Here is a look at why proper eating and drinking matters.

Many residents are already frail

Healthy people have been known to bounce back from malnutrition, dehydration or starvation circumstances with little or no long-term effects. However, such recovery is unlikely in nursing homes, where residents are already weak. And make no mistake, malnutrition can be a real problem, affecting up to 20 percent of those in nursing homes. Also, dehydration can lead to issues such as pneumonia and ulcers as well as worse dementia and a compromised immune system.

Some residents are vulnerable

Many people in nursing homes are not mentally and physically robust. That means they may not be able to get up and fix their own food or get a glass of water if the need arises. In fact, they may not even be able to communicate (or realize) that they are thirsty or hungry.

It can indicate other issues

A nursing home that routinely has residents who suffer from dehydration and malnutrition could be grappling with other issues. For instance, perhaps residents do not get enough liquids due to understaffing. This understaffing could also lead to bedsores, delayed medical treatments and other problems.

In fact, malnutrition can occur even when a nursing home has staffers who intensely care about residents. The staffers just may be undertrained. For example, some residents with dentures might not be able to chew their food properly and are too embarrassed to admit it. Over time, they become malnourished. Or, the residents just may not be hungry (loss of appetite frequently accompanies older age and the taking of some medications), and undertrained staffers may not recognize this as a problem.

If nursing home staffing numbers are too low, staffers may give out improper serving sizes or forget to serve meals/drinks to some residents.

Definitions are vague

Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted standard of what is considered proper nutrition. Thus, some nursing homes are able to "get away with" treating their residents poorly-or may not even realize they are doing it.

Malnutrition and dehydration in New Jersey can lead to serious illnesses and even death. Someone who has loved ones affected by this type of nursing home abuse and neglect may want to speak with a lawyer.