When you entrust your parent’s or other aging loved one’s care to a nursing home, you expect the nurses, administrators, and staff to do everything possible to ensure that he or she is able to live a comfortable and fulfilling life. You expect the smiling faces and cozy atmosphere portrayed on the nursing home’s website to translate into the real world, and you expect your loved one to be able to happily settle into his or her new home.
You don’t even think about worrying that your loved one’s basic needs will go unfulfilled.
Tragically, this is a very real problem in many Chicago nursing homes. It is estimated that a minimum of one third of all nursing home residents in the U.S. suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, or both. Improper medication is a prevalent issue as well, with many residents often going for days, weeks or even months without receiving the medications they have been prescribed. Overdosing and underdosing are common issues as well; and, despite the training required of all nurses who work in the nursing home setting, it is not at all unusual for residents to be provided with incorrect dosages or have their medications administered on an improper schedule.
The Most-Common Problems are Also Among the Easiest to Avoid
While malnutrition, dehydration, and improper medication are easily among health concerns facing nursing home residents in Chicago, they are also among the easiest problems to avoid. Residents’ care plans should specify their dietary needs and restrictions as well as the appropriate schedule for providing or administering their prescription drugs. Nursing homes should also have an adequate number of skilled staff members who are capable of following residents’ care plans, and they should have policies and procedures in place to ensure that any isolated mistakes can be addressed before they lead to long-term consequences.
Unfortunately, our experience shows that this level of care is the exception rather than the norm. From hiring inexperienced (or apathetic) care givers to failing to provide access to nutritious foods, if you can think of a shortcoming, it exists in a nursing home in Chicago. In fact, it probably exists in several nursing homes, and probably not in isolation. In our experience, nursing homes routinely fall short of meeting residents’ and family members’ reasonable expectations, and they will often go to greater lengths to conceal their misdeeds than they will to correct them.
To be abundantly clear, while malnutrition, dehydration, and improper medication are common in Chicago nursing homes, they are never justified. All of these issues can be avoided with proper care; and, if a resident’s health condition suffers, the resident must be provided with access to adequate medical care so that he or she can fully recover. Malnutrition, dehydration, and improper medication are usually clear signs of nursing home negligence, and residents who suffer due to nursing home negligence deserve to be fully compensated for the financial losses and non-financial harm they endure.
Identifying the Signs of Malnutrition, Dehydration, and Improper Medication
Warning Signs of Malnutrition
There are many warning signs of malnutrition. Unfortunately, these warning signs can be symptomatic of other medical conditions as well, particularly among the elderly, and this can make it difficult for nursing home residents and their loved ones to diagnose a severe nutrient deficiency. Common symptoms of malnutrition include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Inability to perform routine tasks
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Swollen thyroid
- Tooth decay
- Unexplained weight loss
The longer a nursing home resident suffers from malnutrition, the more exposure he or she can face to additional complications. For example, the effects of prolonged malnutrition can include:
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Bedsores (pressure ulcers) resulting from lack of mobility
- Impaired brain and muscle function
- Increased risk of broken bones and other serious injuries from falls
- Increased risk of infections
- Slower healing of wounds
If your loved one is exhibiting signs of malnutrition, how can you determine if he or she is suffering from a nutrient deficiency and not some other medical condition? As always, if you have any concerns about an aging loved one’s health, the best and most important thing you can do is to see a doctor right away. Your loved one’s doctor can run tests to determine if he or she is suffering from malnutrition; and, if so, the doctor can begin providing appropriate treatment immediately. In addition to watching for the symptoms of malnutrition, it can be helpful to be mindful of the following risk factors:
- Inadequate diet – In adequate access to essential nutrients is the fundamental cause of malnutrition, and it is frequently the result of nursing home negligence.
- Mental illness – Nursing home residents who suffer from dementia, schizophrenia, and other forms of mental illness may be more reliant on nursing home staff to ensure that they consume a nutritious diet.
- Chronic health conditions – Chronic health conditions such as cancers, Chron’s disease, and diabetes can limit the food options that are available to nursing home residents. When this is the case, nursing homes must provide adequate care to ensure that residents receive adequate and appropriate foods.
Warning Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration occurs when the body uses more fluids than it takes in, and the effects of dehydration can be both swift and severe. As explained by the Mayo Clinic:
“[Dehydration] is especially dangerous for . . . older adults. . . . Older adults naturally have a lower volume of water in their bodies, and may have conditions or take medications that increase the risk of dehydration. This means that even minor illnesses, such as infections affecting the lungs or bladder, can result in dehydration in older adults.”
However, once again, the fact that older adults may be more susceptible to dehydration is not an excuse for dehydration to occur. If anything, it places further onus on nursing homes to ensure that their residents have regular access to adequate fluids. There are a number of tell-tale signs of dehydration in older adults, including:
- Dark or bloody stool
- Inability to keep liquids down (vomiting)
- Infrequent urination (and dark-colored urine)
Similar to malnutrition, dehydration can lead to a number of potentially-serious complications as well. These can include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Urinary tract infections, kidney stones, or kidney failure
- Sudden and severe drop in blood pressure (hypovolemic shock)
Inadequate access to fluids, mental illness, and chronic health conditions are all risk factors for dehydration among seniors living in nursing homes. Contracting the flu, bronchitis, and other illnesses can increase aging individuals’ risk of dehydration as well, and nursing homes must monitor sick residents carefully to ensure that they are consuming and retaining adequate fluids.
Warning Signs of Improper Medication
The effects of improper medication can range from minor discomfort to potentially life-threatening medical conditions. Nursing homes have an obligation to ensure that residents have access to their prescription medications when they need them, whether that means simply ensuring that able-bodied residents have their medications in their rooms or physically administering medications to residents who are dependent on their caregivers.
The warning signs and effects of improper medication will vary depending upon the specific issue and medication involved. For example, signs that a nursing home resident is not being provided with access to his or her medications as prescribed include:
- Excess pills or liquid medications (based on the prescribed daily dosage)
- Evidence that medications have been thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet
- Missing pill bottles or complaints that medications are being stolen or administered to other residents
- Signs or symptoms of relapse or inadequate treatment of the condition for which a medication was prescribed
- Evasiveness when nursing home staff or administrators are asked about a resident’s medication regimen
On the other end of the spectrum is overdose. Sadly, in nursing homes, overdoses can be the result of both negligent care and intentional abuse. If your aging loved one is exhibiting symptoms of a drug overdose, it is important to seek emergency medical treatment immediately. These symptoms may include:
- Anxiety or depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of coordination
- Slow breathing or heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady gait
In any case, when faced with concerns of inadequate, substandard, or negligent care in a Chicago nursing home, it is important to seek medical advice from a doctor right away. It is also important to speak with an attorney who can deal with the nursing home on your behalf and help extricate your loved one from a dangerous situation. Your loved one may also be entitled to financial compensation, and holding the nursing home accountable can be a crucial step on the road to recovery.
Speak with a Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer in Chicago, IL
Are you concerned about the quality of care your parent or other aging loved one is receiving in a Chicago nursing home? If so, we urge you to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation. To speak with an experienced Chicago nursing home negligence lawyer at Malman Law, please call 888-625-6265 or tell us how to reach you online now.