Extreme Dehydration and Hypernatremia
Water, Water Everywhere, but Not a Drop to Drink
Imagine this – you are left in a room with no access to water or you are incapacitated and have had no fluids for several hours or even days. Worse yet, you are taking medications that also have a diuretic effect and your body is thirsty for fluids. The only way to replenish any fluids that your body so badly needs is to call for an attendant, but you can’t communicate and no one checks upon you. What then?
This is too often the case for many nursing home patients. Dehydration is one of the most common ailments resulting from elder neglect. It occurs when a patient is not given enough fluids and, as a result, is unable to perform normal body functions. When a person is dehydrated, his or her body has lost too many fluids and electrolytes. While dehydration, in general, is harmful, it is especially so among the elderly as they are more susceptible to contracting urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and bedsores. If the patient is extremely dehydrated, death can occur.
Extreme Dehydration and Hypernatremia – Dehydration can also lead to a severe medical condition called hypernatremia. Hypernatremia is an electrolyte problem characterized by a decrease in total body water relative to the body’s total sodium levels. It is caused when the total water intake is less than the total water loss or when a person receives inadequate water intake. A major symptom of hypernatremia is thirst, but other clinical manifestations can exist including confusion, seizures, and coma. In critical cases, hypernatremia can lead to organ failure.
With nursing homes that are understaffed, overworked, and improperly trained, it is no wonder that dehydration is so prevalent in nursing homes today. Nursing home patients cannot monitor their fluid intake themselves, often requiring assistance taking fluids. The responsibility of carefully monitoring and administering necessary fluids to patients falls on the nursing home facility and its employees.
Yet, many nursing home employees do not properly administer fluids to their patients. This can be a result of carelessness (when employees forget to give their patients fluids), leaving water beyond the reach of their patients, or relying on the patient to drink the water him or herself when the elder is simply incapable of doing so. They can also create situations which increases the risk of dehydrating the patient, such as exposing the older individual to hot temperatures or not identifying drugs that act a diuretic. Dehydration can also be caused by excessive fluid losses due to illness, or even side effects from medication. Diarrhea is the most common cause of dehydration, and vomiting also leads to loss of fluids.
The best way to treat dehydration is to prevent it from occurring. When patients are bedridden, they cannot be left in their room for hours or days at a time without a nursing home employee carefully monitoring them and administering proper fluids. They must also be sure not to cause dehydration by leaving patients in hot rooms without water, to make sure all water that is given to patients is within reach and that the patient can drink it (and, if not, the staff must assist the elder), or giving the patient drugs that are diuretics without replenishing the fluids lost.
York Law Firm understands the importance of caring for nursing home patients to enable them to thrive. When dehydration occurs, injuries resulting reduce their ability to thrive, and may even cause their death. That’s why York Law Firm is so dedicated to helping patients of nursing home abuse. If your loved one is a nursing home resident who has suffered injury as a result of dehydration, contact one of our many experienced elder abuse attorney to determine whether you are entitled to recovery.
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