The Dangers of Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Home Residents

Published on Jan 23, 2024 at 7:18 pm in Nursing Home Abuse.

The Dangers of Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Home Residents

When we move our elderly or disabled loved one or family member into a nursing home or an extended care facility, we expect the staff to be qualified, compassionate, and caring. Unfortunately, sometimes residents at nursing homes suffer abuse or neglect at the hands of the very people who are supposed to keep them safe. According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), one of the top complaints from mistreated elders in nursing homes was caretaker neglect.

Nursing home residents who suffer from malnutrition or dehydration can experience critical health issues or even loss of life. This type of neglect should be taken very seriously and be remedied as quickly as possible.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the signs, symptoms, and dangerous long-term effects that malnutrition and dehydration can have on nursing home residents, as well as what you can do if you believe your loved one is suffering from neglect.

What To Look for When You Visit Your Loved One

We want our family members to be properly cared for as they get older, and when we get them settled into a nursing home or other care facility, we expect a high level of care. However, out of the 1.5 million older adults who live in a nursing home, approximately 11.6% reported some type of neglect, according to a publication from the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Here are some things to look for when you visit your loved one in their nursing home or long-term care facility, which may signify that a serious issue is occurring.

Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition

Malnutrition isn’t usually something that occurs overnight. It’s something that gradually happens over time, and in nursing homes, it is usually due to neglect by the caregivers and nursing home staff.

It can be caused by staff withholding meals from residents or providing them with meals that lack nutrients, and may present as follows:

  • Excessive redness in the mouth
  • Canker sores
  • Thrush
  • Yeast infection
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Prolonged fatigue
  • Dull hair color
  • Noticeably flaccid muscles
  • Swollen corneas or eye redness
  • Increased sensitivity to cold

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

Alongside, but separate from malnutrition, dehydration is another common issue in nursing homes, also usually caused by staff not properly caring for their residents by withholding water or other fluids.

These signs may look like:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth or dry cough
  • Swollen feet
  • Loss of appetite with a possible craving for sugar
  • Flushed skin
  • Confusion or slurred speech
  • Fainting
  • Hallucinating
  • Seizures
  • Temperature above 102 degrees
  • Lack of sweating
  • Muscle twitching

If you see any of the things mentioned in these lists and you believe your loved one is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or your local police department or emergency services. If your loved one is not in immediate danger, but you believe they are suffering from malnourishment or dehydration, reach out to a qualified nursing home abuse lawyer today.

Long-Term Effects of Malnutrition and Dehydration

Anytime someone suffers from malnutrition or dehydration, those symptoms mentioned above can lead to devastating and even deadly consequences, especially for elderly or already ill individuals. Long-term effects may include the following:


  • Osteoporosis (weakened or brittle bones)
  • Peptic ulcers (open sores inside the stomach and small intestine)
  • Skin problems
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Death


  • Coma
  • Seizures due to imbalanced electrolytes
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Kidney stones, kidney disease, or kidney failure
  • Hypovolemic shock (low blood pressure combined with low oxygen)
  • Death

Long-term neglect like this can lead to chronic problems or even death, and often, the elderly victims of this neglect are either unable or too afraid to speak up for themselves.

It’s important to pay attention to your loved ones when you visit them and keep track of any unusual behavior or visible differences, as well as their treatment by the staff or nurses. If anything looks out of place or suspicious, contact the proper authorities and a lawyer immediately.

What Causes This Kind of Neglect?

Most of the time, nursing home residents suffer from dehydration and malnutrition due to the actions of their caregivers and nursing home staff.

A common cause of this neglect is improper training or inadequate staffing for the number of residents living in a facility. When a nursing home or long-term care facility is understaffed, the caregivers are more likely to cut corners and intentionally “forget” to provide the residents in their care with basic needs such as food and water but also medication, bathroom assistance, etc.

According to a 2023 congressional report from the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, Kentucky has the highest percentage (84%) of nursing home inspectors who are overworked or have a higher-than-average turnover rate.

This puts all nursing home residents in the Bluegrass State at higher risk of neglect or abuse as the nursing home caregivers can get away with mistreatment due to extremely infrequent inspections of the facilities.

What You Can Do To Help Your Loved One

If you believe that your loved one is being neglected in their nursing home, your best course of action is to reach out to a Lexington nursing home abuse lawyer from our team at Peterson Law Office.

Unless your loved one is in immediate danger, we recommend contacting an attorney before anyone else so that all necessary evidence can be collected to ensure you have a solid case. If the negligent party (staff, manager, nurses, etc.) has any notice that you want to pursue legal action against them, they may destroy important evidence.

Additionally, in the unfortunate event that the neglect your loved one suffered causes their death, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit, which our office also has experience handling.

Reach out to our office today for a free consultation so that our compassionate attorneys can help you get justice for your loved one.

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