Although weight loss isn't automatically an indication of nursing home neglect, changes in a loved one's weight should always be taken seriously. If you're worried about your loved one, seek a medical evaluation and consult a nursing home abuse attorney to learn more about your legal options.
How Age-Related Eating Difficulties Lead to Weight Loss
Cancer, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis are examples of medical conditions that could cause a senior to suddenly lose a noticeable amount of weight. However, nursing home residents who do not suffer from any of these problems still face a number of challenges related to maintaining good nutrition and a healthy body weight. For example:
- Appetite tends to decrease as people age, especially when they also suffer from depression.
- Aging affects perception of taste and smell, which makes eating less enjoyable.
- Medications commonly taken by the elderly may cause gastrointestinal upset.
- Swallowing disorders caused by dementia or stroke can compromise the ability to eat without choking.
- Dentures that don't fit properly can make eating foods physically difficult.
- Cognitive impairments and/or tremors can make it impossible for residents to feed themselves.
Due to these risk factors, elderly individuals often require a specialized diet and extra attention to make sure they are eating properly. When they do not receive the attention they need, malnutrition can result.
Signs of Malnutrition
Aside from visible weight loss, signs of malnutrition include:
- Thinning hair
- Fatigue and weakness
- Bruising easily
- Sunken eyes
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heartbeat
- Decreased urine output
- Dark urine
- Minor wounds that seem to take a long time to heal
Malnutrition is dangerous because it can decrease the effectiveness of the immune system, making an elderly person vulnerable to illnesses. Malnutrition can also cause weakness that increases the risk of falls and other injuries.
Malnutrition is often accompanied by dehydration, which can lead to a number of dangerous complications such as seizures, blood clots, kidney failure, and hypovolemic shock. You can tell if a senior is dehydrated by gently pressing on the skin of the forearm or forehead with your index finger and thumb. Skin that maintains a pinched appearance instead of returning to normal momentarily indicates the person is dehydrated.
How Weight Loss Is Linked to Nursing Home Neglect
Weight loss can be linked to nursing home neglect in several ways. For example:
- A facility with high turnover may have staff members who do not know a resident's specific dietary requirements.
- Understaffing may leave a resident who is unable to self-feed without the necessary assistance.
- Improper training can cause staff to ignore the signs of malnutrition or to be unsure of how to coax someone to eat.
- Frustrated or overworked staff members may cut corners and not allow enough time for a resident to eat properly.
Ideally, a nursing assistant should be responsible for no more than three residents during mealtimes. However, since there are no federal laws that set minimum staffing requirements for nurses' aides, it's not uncommon for a single individual to supervise as many as 15 residents during mealtime.
Protecting Your Loved One
If you believe your loved one's weight loss indicates improper care, you should first discuss your concerns with the facility administrators. If the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, seek an independent medical exam, and contact a nursing home abuse attorney to learn how to protect your loved one's legal rights.
A nursing home abuse claim is a type of civil action that allows you to seek compensation for medical expenses related to the abuse, as well as any pain and suffering your loved one has experienced due to the actions of his caregivers. If your loved one has died due to malnutrition linked to improper care, you can seek wrongful death compensation for medical expenses up to the time of death, pain and suffering, and funeral and burial costs. In some cases, punitive damages may also be available.
Neblett, Beard & Arsenault's award-winning legal team is dedicated to helping Louisiana residents obtain justice for their elderly loved ones who have been harmed by nursing home neglect. Contact us online or call our office directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.