Malnutrition & dehydration in nursing homes


Malnutrition, or lack of proper nutrition, can be a serious, life-threatening medical problem for older adults. Malnutrition means more than not having enough to eat. It means not getting enough vitamins and minerals into your body. Malnutrition can lead to a variety of serious health problems, including:

  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Weakness, resulting in immobility, falls , bedsores, and pneumonia
  • Inability to fight off sickness
  • Inability to recover from an existing illness
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Impairment of organ function
  • Infection
  • Anemia
  • Death


Dehydration, or inadequate hydration, occurs when a person’s loss of body fluids is more than his or her intake of fluids. Like malnutrition, dehydration can lead to a variety of serious health problems, like :

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bedsores
  • Pneumonia
  • Death

According to the Health Care Financing Administration, dehydration was ranked one of the ten most frequent admitting diagnoses in a study on Medicare hospitalizations. Increasing age is one of the major risk factors for dehydration. In fact, those persons between the ages of 85 and 99 years are six times more likely to be hospitalized for dehydration. It is very important that healthcare providers in nursing homes recognize that elderly are at risk for developing dehydration. When a person is recognized as being at risk for dehydration, preventative measures should be taken from the offset to avoid dehydration.

A person “at risk” for dehydration should have a hydration program in place at the nursing home. A hydration program would include assisting the person with drinking, offering fluids at mealtime and in between meals, looking for signs and symptoms of dehydration, notifying the physician if such signs and symptoms are present, recording the residents and intravenous fluid replacement when the physician deems it necessary.

Negligence Related to Malnutrition and Dehydration

Two out of five nursing home residents suffer from malnutrition, and dehydration is the most common fluid and electrolyte disorder of frail older people. Malnutrition in nursing home residents can occur for a variety of reasons, including the resident’s inability to process food and ill-fitting dentures. Dehydration can occur for a variety of reasons as well, including diarrhea and the effects of medication. Unfortunately, malnutrition and dehydration can also occur due to a nursing home’s negligence in a variety of situations, including :

  • Failure of the nursing home to employ adequate staff, which results in the staff’s inability to properly feed the residents
  • Failure of the staff members to pay adequate attention to those residents needing assistance with eating
  • Failure of the nursing home to properly educate the staff on nutrition and feeding methods
  • Failure of the nursing home to provide proper supervision over those who provide nutritional services
  • Reliance on liquid supplements as opposed to making sure each resident eats enough food to get necessary vitamins, minerals, protein, and calories

If you notice that your loved one has signs of malnutrition or dehydration or if you think that they are not getting enough food or fluids at the nursing home, you should immediately notify the nursing staff and the physician to prevent potentially serious, life-threatening consequences.

Effects of Understaffing

Government statistics show that 47% of residents in nursing homes need assistance with eating. 21% of residents are completely dependent for help. In addition, patients in nursing homes often need more water than the average person because of the medications they are taking. If the nursing home is understaffed, then there may not be anyone available to take the time to see that the patient has had enough to eat or to drink.