Dehydration: Keeping Elderly Nursing Homes Safe

Sun and thermometer

As temperatures rise, it is important to know the signs of dehydration in the elderly in nursing homes.

With summer approaching, it is important to keep your elderly loved one’s health in mind. While Dehydration is a condition in which the elderly are susceptible, the chances of suffering from dehydration increase as the temperatures get warmer.

According to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, elderly people have less water in their system. Elderly people are more likely to take medication that can lead to dehydration and suffer from illnesses or conditions that can also lead to them getting dehydrated easily.

While care facilities should be aware and cautious of their elderly residents getting dehydrated, it is important to watch for signs of dehydration to make sure that your loved one is safe.

What are Symptoms of Dehydration in the Elderly?

According to the Mayo Clinic, thirst is not always a reliable indicator of dehydration. The article outlines the following symptoms of dehydration in the elderly:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

It is extremely important to get medical care for a loved one if you notice that your loved one has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, has bloody or black stools, if they are disoriented, irritable, or less active than normal, or cannot keep fluids down.

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms and your loved one’s care facility has not given your loved one proper care, they are neglecting your loved one and need to be held accountable.

What Causes Dehydration in the Elderly

According to the Mayo Clinic, one cause of dehydration is relatively simple. Not drinking enough water. But this explanation is more complicated with the elderly. They are more likely to have conditions that complicate keeping them hydrated. For example, if they are taking certain medications that have side effects such as dehydration, or they are ill and the symptoms of the illness could be dehydration.

The article outlines other causes of Dehydration:

  • Diarrhea, vomiting. Severe, acute diarrhea — that is, diarrhea that comes on suddenly and violently — can cause a tremendous loss of water and electrolytes in a short amount of time. If you have vomiting along with diarrhea, you lose even more fluids and minerals.
  • Fever. In general, the higher your fever, the more dehydrated you may become. The problem worsens if you have a fever in addition to diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Excessive sweating. You lose water when you sweat. If you do vigorous activity and don’t replace fluids as you go along, you can become dehydrated. Hot, humid weather increases the amount you sweat and the amount of fluid you lose.
  • Increased urination. This may be due to undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes. Certain medications, such as diuretics and some blood pressure medications, also can lead to dehydration, generally because they cause you to urinate more.

If you are aware of your loved one suffering from any of these causes, it is so important to make sure they are keeping hydrated. You should speak with your loved one’s healthcare professional as soon as possible if you notice these signs.

What Are Some Possible Complications of Dehydration?

Because older people are more likely become dehydrated, the are at a higher risk for complications. The article outlines that the sense of thirst can become less reliable as we age. It also outlines that chronic illnesses, such as dementia and diabetes, use of certain medications, and limited mobility, all contribute to the higher risks of elderly becoming dehydrated.

The article also reports on the complications of dehydration:

  • Heat injury. If you don’t drink enough fluids when you’re exercising vigorously and perspiring heavily, you may end up with a heat injury, ranging in severity from mild heat cramps to heat exhaustion or potentially life-threatening heatstroke.
  • Urinary and kidney problems. Prolonged or repeated bouts of dehydration can cause urinary tract infections, kidney stones and even kidney failure.
  • Seizures. Electrolytes — such as potassium and sodium — help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. If your electrolytes are out of balance, the normal electrical messages can become mixed up, which can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and sometimes to a loss of consciousness.
  • Low blood volume shock (hypovolemic shock). This is one of the most serious, and sometimes life-threatening, complications of dehydration. It occurs when low blood volume causes a drop in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in your body.

These are all very serious complications that could be the result of dehydration. If your loved one has experienced any of these, you should speak with your loved one’s doctor. It is the nursing homes responsibility to make sure your loved one is safe and hydrated.

Nursing home residents often need assistance with eating and drinking, including having the correct balance of nutrients for their needs, being encouraged to eat or drink, physical assistance eating or drinking, or even taking food, fluid, and medicine other than by mouth, such as a PEG tube into the stomach.

Nursing homes are required to ensure residents who require assistance or have cognitive issues receive adequate food and fluid every day.  Often, this is left to aides (nursing assistants or STNAs), who are overworked, understaffed, and under paid.  The results can be sickness, shock, even death.

If you have suspicions that your loved one has been neglected and the result is dehydration, please contact me here. I will investigate the causes and together we will hold the nursing home accountable.

You can read the full article here.

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