You go to visit your elderly mother in a nursing home, and find her listless and confused. She looks like she’s lost weight, and her skin is like paper. She’s weak and tired, and not really present for most of your visit. Naturally, you’re worried that this is a sign that she’s declining from age, but after asking some questions you discover that she just hasn’t been getting enough food and may be suffering from malnutrition.
It can be disconcerting to visit a loved one in a nursing home and discover that the care being given is less than expected and desired. When that lack of care rises to the level of neglect or abuse, it’s common for a family to feel angry and frustrated. Unfortunately, malnutrition is an all-too-common consequence of abuse or neglect that can damage a nursing home resident’s health, particularly when they are elderly or disabled and vulnerable to health issues.
A nursing home is supposed to be a place where seniors or people with disabilities can get the kind of medical care and attention that they can’t get living at home with family. When a loved one enters a nursing home, family members trust that the nursing home will provide expert, quality care and meet the needs of their residents in a compassionate manner.
The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act says that every nursing home resident has numerous rights — including the right to be free from neglect and abuse. It isn’t just a family’s expectation that a nursing home will provide adequate care. It’s Illinois law. When a nursing home fails to provide such a basic level of care as ensuring residents get proper nutrition, the resident or an authorized representative may be able to make a claim for compensation for the abuse or neglect.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, an experienced nursing home lawyer can help you determine if you have a claim. With a successful claim, you may be able to recover any actual costs caused by the abuse or neglect, which may include medical bills for treatment of any physical or mental health problems caused by the nursing home, lost income, pain and suffering, and loss of normal life. You also may be able to recover any attorney fees you pay because of the abuse or neglect.
Common Reasons for Malnutrition in Nursing Homes
Malnutrition may be the result of neglect — simply not paying attention and noticing the signs that an elderly person or disabled person isn’t eating enough. People can lose their appetites as part of the aging process, or if with some medical or mental health conditions. When nursing home staff don’t have the training to recognize signs of malnutrition, or to know what to do when a nursing home resident is suffering from malnutrition, the resident may suffer health consequences.
In many instances, the nursing home may not have enough staff to provide adequate care to residents and may miss the signs of malnutrition because they don’t have the resources to watch everyone. When a nursing home is understaffed, neglect often is the result.
Some nursing home residents may need special diets to ensure they get enough nutrients to keep them healthy. If kitchen staff or staff dieticians lack sufficient training to understand the particular nutritional needs of nursing home residents, malnutrition may be the result.
Malnutrition also can be the result of abuse when a nursing home staff member decides to withhold food as a form of punishment or a way to exercise control over a nursing home resident.
Signs of Malnutrition
A proper diet should include a balance of nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. A healthy diet generally includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. However, seniors or people with disabilities may have special dietary needs due to medical conditions or the body’s inability to absorb nutrients as people age. Malnutrition can be the result of either not eating enough food or not eating the right balance of foods.
It’s important for family members to know the signs of malnutrition and recognize when their loved one who lives in a nursing home may not be getting adequate nutrition for good health. A senior or disabled person who is experiencing malnutrition may exhibit:
- Weight loss that seems to be unexplained
- Memory loss
- Fatigue or weakness
- Hair loss
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle loss
- Dry skin or eyes that appear sunken
Consequences of Malnutrition
Good nutrition is the foundation for good health. When malnutrition isn’t addressed, it can cause a number of health problems or aggravate existing problems when the person isn’t getting enough nutrients for the body to properly function.
A study in the journal Clinical Medicine listed some of the potential effects of malnutrition in adult:
- Weakness and loss of muscle function as muscle mass is lost
- Heart problems because of loss of cardiac muscle
- Persistent cough or respiratory tract infections because of poor respiratory muscle function
- Loss of function of the pancreas
- Loss of absorption function in the colon that can lead to diarrhea
- Impaired immune functions and healing of wounds
- Depression and anxiety
Prolonged malnutrition can cause permanent damage to organ function or other parts of the body, or even death from starvation.
How a Lawyer Can Help
An experienced Chicago nursing home lawyer can help you through the process of figuring out your options for handling the abuse or neglect, which may include reporting the nursing home to the state Department of Public Health for action against the nursing home’s license, as well as making a claim for compensation from the nursing home’s owner or licensee. A lawyer can represent your interests through an investigation into the abuse or neglect, and help you gather the evidence you’ll need to support your claim. A lawyer additionally can negotiate with the nursing home or its insurance company for a settlement of your claim, or try your case in court and fight to get you the best possible outcome so that your loved one is financially secure and safe from further harm. Contact Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. today for a free consultation at (312) 236-2900.