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Senior Health Issue: Dehydration Can Lead to Serious Health Problems, or Death

Improper, inadequate hydration or dehydration of residents living in nursing home facilities is one of the most common forms of nursing home negligence and abuse that occurs in the United States. Elderly individuals are more vulnerable to becoming dehydrated due to their advanced age. Sometimes the medications elder people take, or physical ailments that they may have can make dehydration even more likely in certain individuals. Many nursing home residents depend on nursing staff members to provide them with adequate hydration, especially those residents who are immobilized or are unable to communicate when they are thirsty, either due to English language barriers, inability to speak or cognitive impairment. Dehydration is a sign of nursing home abuse, and should be reported immediately.

Common Signs of Dehydration
There are many signs and symptoms commonly associated with dehydration, many of which are easily noticeable upon visual inspection of the affected individual. The most common signs include dry mouth, dry skin, cracked lips, fatigue, confusion or mental incompetence, very dark urine and constipation, or a loss of appetite. If you are visiting a loved one in a nursing home and they ask you for fluids or complain about being thirsty, it may be a sign that your loved one is receiving inadequate hydration and can be a sign of neglect by the nursing home staff.

Dehydration Causes Electrolyte Imbalance
Electrolytes are minerals in the blood that need to be maintained in a particular balance with water in order to properly support homeostatic conditions in the body. These elements are particularly vital in the process of transmitting electrical impulses amongst the body’s cells. When dehydration occurs, the ratio of electrolytes to water is disrupted causing an electrolyte imbalance. The most disruptive electrolyte imbalances that result from dehydration affect sodium concentrations, potassium levels, and the amount of chloride that is available in the blood.

Organ Failure: Kidneys
Extended periods of dehydration can cause damage to the kidneys, which can prevent the kidneys from functioning properly. Kidneys serve as the waste transport system in the body, removing waste products from the blood through the excretion of urine. At the outset of dehydration, some damage done to the kidneys is reversible, which is, if adequate hydration levels are restored in the body, the kidneys can repair themselves and function normally. However, prolonged dehydration can cause the renal system to succumb to severe permanent damage. The damage can be so severe that the kidneys actually fail and no longer function. The affected individual may require regular dialysis in order to prolong life. In the most severe cases of dehydration, death results.

For help with planning for elder care, contact our New York elder law attorneys today.

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