Nutritional Neglect in Nursing Homes

Nursing home residents are dependent on the facilities and their employees for their everyday needs, including nutrition. Residents’ abilities to eat may range from stomach tubes and nutrition via IV to the ability to walk to a dining room and eat under their own power. No matter the situation, without proper nutrition nursing home residents can quickly become weakened, develop infections and possibly die due to nutritional neglect. This is especially true for those who suffer from chronic medical conditions.

Neglect at a nursing home can take many forms. You may think it just means a lack of care resulting in a bedsore, or the lack of supervision resulting in a fall which injures a resident.  Those would be instances of neglect; but nursing home neglect can also include nutritional neglect.

If, due to an uncaring, negligent nursing home, a resident is not properly fed or provided liquids and nourishment, malnutrition can result. This type of neglect is often caused by a nursing home operator who doesn’t want to spend more money to benefit the residents.

At least one third of the 1.6 million nursing home residents in the United States in 2000 may have suffered from malnutrition or dehydration, according to a study released by the Commonwealth Fund. They found:

  • From 35% to 85% percent of nursing home residents are malnourished.
  • From 60% to 70% of residents are cognitively impaired, and many of them need help with eating.
  • Swallowing disorders (dysphagia) caused by dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions affect from 40% to 60% of nursing home residents.
  • In some nursing homes 30% to 50% of residents are underweight.
  • A study co-author stated that the extent of malnutrition and dehydration in some nursing homes is similar to conditions found in many poor, developing countries where inadequate food intake is worsened by repeated infections.
  • This can worsen or cause severe medical problems such as tooth decay, broken bones, anemia, low blood pressure or possibly death.
  • Chronic conditions, including depression, cognitive impairment and the side effects of medications, are also major factors. Those suffering depression are more likely to experience weight loss. If these conditions and side effects aren’t properly diagnosed and managed by the nursing home, malnutrition may result.
  • The study found that much of the problem with malnutrition could be reduced by increasing the number of staff and trained professional nurses so they can make sure residents are getting enough to eat and drink.
  • Federal laws require nursing homes to meet residents’ nutrition needs, but these laws are often ignored.
  • Malnutrition and dehydration have a number of causes, including inadequate staffing, not enough individualized care, and high nurse’s aide turnover.
  • According to the study, one certified nursing assistant (CNA) is often responsible for helping seven to nine residents eat and drink during the daytime and up to 12 to 15 during the evening meal. Ideally, the ratio should be one CNA for every two or three residents who require eating assistance.
  • Making the situation worse is an estimated 93% yearly turnover rate for CNAs, which leads to inconsistent care.
  • Another problem is the food itself. Residents commonly have limited choices, and cultural and ethnic food preferences are frequently ignored.
  • Poor dental health also contributes to inadequate nutritional intake.

“Malnutrition, dehydration, and weight loss in nursing homes constitute one of the largest silent epidemics in this country,” said Karen Davis, president of The Commonwealth Fund.

Other mistakes nursing homes make can eventually lead to malnutrition:

  • Loss of appetite due to a lack of exercise, fresh air, sensory or mental stimulation
  • Staff not trained in properly assisting residents with eating and drinking, including proper positioning
  • Over-reliance on liquid supplements instead of ensuring residents eat enough food
  • Use of special diets or pureed food, which are often unappetizing, or regular food that is served cold
  • An unpleasant, chaotic dining room which can distract residents and increase agitation
  • Tube feedings not being administered
  • Failure to open cartons of milk or juice and supplements that are left out of reach.

If a loved one is the victim of nutritional neglect at a nursing home and suffers injuries as a result, a negligence lawsuit may result in having those responsible being held accountable, as well as compensation for the victim.

If you believe your family member is the victim of nutritional neglect call the Law Offices of Roger Weinberg, LLC, at 1-866-529-5839 from anywhere in Maryland, or fill out this contact form. We can help get the justice and compensation that your loved one deserves. We recognize that while there are many facilities that do a respectable job, there are just as many that do not — and it’s the vulnerable, elderly residents who pay the price.

  • NHTLA - Nursing Home Trail Lawayers Association
  • Avvo