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Can Dehydration Constitute Elder Abuse Or Neglect?

Dehydration, or excessive loss of water from the body, can result in serious medical issues, especially in the elderly and bed bound. With age, the body loses protein and gains fat that retains less water.

Kidneys lose their ability to concentrate urine, leading to more frequent urination. Additionally, as we age, our thirst response is diminished, meaning that we are thirsty less often and consequently take in less fluid. Dehydration can be a factor in a number of other serious medical problems, including confusion or disorientation, the development of bedsores, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and even death.

Those in a long-term care setting often have additional factors that put them at risk for dehydration, such as fluid restrictions, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and a history of refusing fluids. Elderly residents at risk for dehydration should be put on a hydration program where they receive assistance with drinking, are frequently offered fluids, are monitored for symptoms such as darkened urine or a dry mouth and where their fluid intake and output are recorded.

Unfortunately, dehydration can also occur as a result of a care facility’s negligence in several manners. For example, if the facility fails to employ adequate staff, fails to properly educate them, relies heavily on liquid supplements to meet nutritional needs or fails to recognize and/or properly monitor a resident who is at risk for dehydration, this may likely be neglect and could signify elder abuse.

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