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Why is dehydration too common in nursing homes?

One of the many potential dangers of nursing home residents not getting the care they need is that they may become dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when the body's blood vessels and cells don't get as much fluid as they need.

Older people can more easily become dehydrated than younger ones for a number of reasons. Even when they are able to care for themselves, they may simply forget to drink as often as they should. Mobility issues can make getting something to drink a chore they'd rather not take on. Certain medications, like those prescribed for heart problems and high blood pressure, can contribute to dehydration. Further, people get thirsty less frequently as they age.

When elderly people are in nursing homes, particularly if they're unable to get up and move around, they're dependent on the staff to make sure they get enough to drink. Nursing home employees need to make sure patients receive necessary hydration -- even when they aren't thirsty.

However, that's often not the case. Nursing home residents may hesitate to drink as much as they need to because they're afraid that they won't be able to make it to the restroom later. Staff members -- concerned that their patients may wet the bed -- may not encourage them to drink as much as they need to.

As one geriatrician notes, nursing homes can decrease dehydration in their patients by increasing and better training their staffs. However, families, she notes, need to keep an eye on their loved ones to ensure that they're remaining properly hydrated. She says, "Families can be incredible eyes and ears."

The doctor recommends that family members make sure that their loved one always has access to water. She also suggests that they vary their visiting times so that they're seeing how a patient is cared for at different times throughout the day.

Doctors can and should be able to spot signs of dehydration, such as low blood pressure and elevated heart rate. However, family members should be alert for signs like weakness, sunken eyes, dry mouth and dizziness.

Dehydration, if severe enough, can increase sodium levels in the blood. This condition, which is known as hypernatremia, can increase a person's chances of death.

If you're concerned that your loved one's injury or declining health is the cause of nursing home neglect, it's wise to explore your legal options. By holding nursing homes accountable for their actions and inaction, families can help prevent others from suffering harm.

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