Malnutrition and Dehydration

According to recent studies, as many as 35% to 85% of nursing home residents in the United States – meaning as many as 8 out of every 10 residents – may suffer from dehydration or malnutrition. “[T]he level of malnutrition and dehydration in some American nursing homes is similar to that found in many poverty-stricken developing countries where inadequate food intake is compounded by repeated infections.” Malnutrition and Dehydration in Nursing Homes: Key Issues in Prevention and Treatment, National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, June 2000.


Malnutrition is generally defined as an imbalance of nutrients in the body caused by either excess intake of nutrients or a nutritional deficit. Malnutrition in the context of the elderly in nursing homes and long-term care facilities is characterized by poor nutrition that results from an insufficient or poorly balanced diet, from defective digestion in the resident, or from inadequate intake of food nutrients. It is estimated that it takes 30 to 60 minutes to adequately feed a nursing home resident safely and sufficiently – but nursing homes and long-term care facilities typically do not devote this amount of time to feeding residents because they are often horribly understaffed. Furthermore, many elderly patients experience a loss of taste, smell, and appetite, they may suffer from depression or cognitive disorders, or they may take medications that affect their appetite.


Dehydration is generally defined as the rapid weight loss of greater than 3% of a resident’s body weight. Dehydration can be caused by many factors, but in the elderly nursing home population, dehydration is often the result of increased fluid loss due to illness, decreased fluid intake by residents, and the effect of various medications administered to elderly patients. Further, because many elderly patients suffer from cognitive impairments, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, many nursing home residents are at an increased risk of dehydration.

Having an elderly family member suffer from malnutrition or dehydration in a nursing home or long care facility is unacceptable. When you place your care and trust of a family member with a nursing home or other elderly care facility, you should expect and demand that the facility properly assess the nutritional needs of your loved one and implement a comprehensive nutritional management plan. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities for the elderly have a duty to train their staff to recognize the signs and symptoms of malnutrition and dehydration and understand the unique nutritional needs of the elderly.

The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 – the law requires nursing homes to meet specific nutritional standards.

In 1986, the Institute of Medicine conducted a study and found that nursing home residents were being provided inadequate care and nutrition, as well as being subjected to widespread abuse and neglect. The Nursing Home Reform Act was passed in 1987. This act created sweeping regulations that require nursing homes to assess the nutritional status of its residents, both at the time that the elderly patient is admitted into the facility and every 3 months after initial assessment. The Nursing Home Reform Act requires that the nursing home facility take steps to ensure that the patient receives a well-balanced and palatable meal, served at the proper temperature. The nursing home facility must also offer residents who refuse to eat the food that is served substitutes of similar nutritional value.

Malnutrition and Dehydration Can Lead to Serious Health Disorders and Injuries

Malnutrition in elderly nursing home and long-term care residents can lead to serious health disorders, including:

  • Poor wound healing
  • Muscle weakness, leading to falls and fractures
  • Weakened immune system, which increases the risk of infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Bedsores
  • Confusion and disorientation leading to further injuries
  • Life-threatening imbalances of electrolytes

Malnutrition and Dehydration is Easily Preventable

Probably the most chilling fact about malnutrition and dehydration in nursing home residents is the fact that it is unnecessary and easily preventable. Not only are nursing homes required by law to assess the nutritional needs of their residents and implement a comprehensive nutrition management plan, but the nursing home staff must be trained adequately.

Call Powers Taylor today

If your elderly family member has been injured due to malnutrition or dehydration in a nursing home, long-term care facility, or a home health system, please call our Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Attorneys Now. DO NOT WAIT – call us today for a free consultation.