How to Identify Dehydration or Malnutrition When Visiting Elder Loved Ones Over the Holidays

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The holiday season presents some of the best opportunities to share time with family and friends. They also present opportunities to gauge the well-being of loved ones, especially elder family members.

While visiting an elderly relative at a nursing home, or perhaps picking them up to enjoy a holiday celebration with the whole family, two basic health items to keep in mind are dehydration and malnutrition. A lack of proper hydration and nutrition can be telltale warning signs of nursing home abuse and neglect, or general signals that they are at risk of serious health problems, and even death.

Dehydration is particularly dangerous for older adults, and can be exacerbated in winter months and through certain medications. Malnutrition can lead to a weakened immune system, infections, weak healing, and decreased muscle and bone mass which can lead to falls and fractures.

The causes of dehydration and malnutrition can include a lack of attention from nursing home staff, the absence of accessible fresh water and nutrient-rich foods, and insufficient exercise and stimulation leading to depression and loss of appetite. A lack of oral care also can make it difficult for an aging adult to eat and drink. All of this is avoidable, if not treatable, and should be well within the scope of responsibility for a nursing home facility.

When visiting an elder loved one, pay attention to whether they have lost significant weight since your last visit. Do they appear abnormally weak or disoriented? Does their skin feel dry or loose? Do they have strange wounds on their body, or complain about being thirsty? These are all signs that something is seriously wrong.

Consider asking your elder relative if he or she is having trouble eating and if he or she likes the food offered at their nursing home. Ask where they get water and healthy beverages when they want something to drink. Do they have thinning hair, cracked lips or a dry mouth? If necessary, share your observations with the nursing home oversight staff immediately, and plan for a future meeting to discuss your concerns.

One option is to mutually develop a hydration and nutrition plan, and follow-up with subsequent visits. Another is to remove your elder family member and contact an attorney for guidance. Our nursing home attorneys have the experience and expertise to fight for the safety and wellbeing of older adults; contacting one for advice when you have concerns can be the best gift you can give an elder loved one this holiday season. Do not wait to contact our local team for a free case evaluation today.