In their 2013 estimate, the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that 44.6 million individuals, or 14.1 percent of the population, are age 65 or older. Over the next 15 years, as more Baby Boomers reach that milestone, that number is expected to increase by 60 percent. One number that is also expected to increase in the number of cases involving malnutrition and the elderly. This type of abuse will take place most commonly for those residents of a nursing home, primarily due to neglect.
Nursing Home Negligence
A nursing home can be liable for such cases of neglect when they knowingly ignore clear signs of either malnutrition or dehydration. Not staffing their facility properly or having a substandard hiring process are two reasons for this. Meanwhile, the lack of training for nursing home employees in how to deal with it also plays a role.
Those patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia are especially vulnerable to malnutrition since their lack of mental acuity prevents them from informing staff personnel of such issues.
In that same bracket are those individuals between the age of 85 and 99. Hospitalization for dehydration within this age group is up to six times higher than younger groups. It is the duty of nursing homes to vigilantly monitor patients since either problem could ultimately result in death.
There are some cases in which a patient is apparently suffering from one of these conditions, but is reluctant to report a case of negligence out of fear of retribution from the guilty parties.
Emergency Home Negligence
While a nursing home serves as a prime place for this issue to develop, emergency rooms also are an area where this problem is rarely addressed.
One study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine sampled 138 older adults who visited emergency rooms in the Southeastern part of the United States. The results that followed showed that 16 percent of them were malnourished, and 60 percent were either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition. Of those malnourished patients, 77 percent stated that they had not previous been diagnosed with the problem.
The sample above is just a snapshot of the more than 20 million older adults who visit emergency rooms every year. However, in recently published guidelines, malnutrition was not part of the screening process for these departments.
Some of the reasons for this malnutrition stem from depression or those who found it difficult to eat due to such things as dental problems. Financial or logistical challenges can also be an issue since an individual may lack the money for groceries or have problems just getting to a store.
The problem of malnutrition also can affect individuals in other ways. Since they are weakened from the lack of nutritious food, they are more prone to falling or bed sores. If they need to be hospitalized, complications could develop and their stay will likely be longer than those who are well-nourished.
Children can also fall victim to this, usually as a result of child abuse. Emergency room staffers should be able to spot clear signs of malnutrition in a child. These include lack of growth for their age, fainting, rapid hair loss, and for girls, lack of menstruation.
Greater Awareness Needed
As noted before, this issue continues to grow, which demands that all nursing homes, emergency rooms, and other specific areas be cognizant of this problem.