If your elderly loved one is a Virginia nursing home resident and seems to be inexplicably losing weight or getting weak, they might not be eating enough. A nursing home must ensure its residents are properly nourished. If a nursing home fails to help its residents eat proper meals, it may be liable for neglect.
Can lack of eating indicate nursing home neglect? Yes, lack of eating can indicate neglect when the nursing home is causing or failing to address the reasons for the failure to eat.
At The Law Firm of Carlton F. Bennett, P.L.L.C., we have over four decades of experience holding nursing homes accountable for neglect. We can help you identify whether neglect is occurring and correct it.
Food Regulations in Nursing Homes
Virginia regulates food in nursing homes in several ways:
- Facilities must provide residents with three well-balanced meals and appropriate snacks each day;
- Staff must assist anyone who needs help eating;
- Every facility must have a policy that addresses how the facility monitors mental or physical health changes and meets the individual needs of every resident; and
- Every facility must weigh residents at least monthly to determine if they have experienced significant weight loss, which they must report to the attending physician.
Significant weight loss means losing 5.0% of your body weight in one month, 7.5% in three months, or 10% in six months.
Roots of Malnutrition
Many factors can affect a senior’s ability to eat that have nothing to do with neglect. This can make it difficult to determine what you should do when you are concerned about your loved one’s nutrition. To start, raise your concerns with the home. If you are unsure how to raise your concerns or their response is unsatisfactory, reach out to an experienced nursing home malpractice attorney for guidance.
Reasons for Not Eating
Some seniors lack the physical ability to feed themselves. Whether due to a stroke, arthritis, or some other health condition, a senior may not be able to lift food to their mouth. Some seniors also cannot chew well if they lack teeth or have dentures that do not fit correctly.
Other common reasons a senior’s appetite may diminish in a nursing home include:
- Reduction in senses like smell and taste,
- Illness or medication,
- Depression or another mental health condition, or
- Alzheimer’s or dementia.
A resident may also fail to eat due to neglect independent from or in conjunction with these issues.
Signs of Neglect
Sometimes a loss of appetite can be directly caused by neglect on the part of a nursing home. Other times, seniors’ health declines despite the staff’s best efforts. Signs of nursing home neglect can be difficult to identify when multiple causes of malnutrition are implicated.
Depression, for example, can be caused by factors like lack of socialization or lifestyle changes. However, in some instances, a person may suffer depression due to mistreatment from a caregiver, making the person less likely to eat.
Residents with physical health challenges may also require direct assistance to feed themselves. So if a senior is malnourished, the nursing home might not be helping them eat.
If you are trying to determine whether lack of eating indicates nursing home neglect, consider:
- How long has the issue been occurring?
- Did anything change around the time you noticed the senior’s failure to eat?
- How does the senior explain their failure to eat?
- Has the senior’s behavior changed recently?
- What policies does the facility have in place to address nutritional issues?
- Is the facility following its policies?
- How does the staff treat residents when you are present?
- How does the staff respond when you raise concerns?
Nursing homes must monitor physical and mental health and modify treatment when needed. Failing to do so may constitute neglect.
Encouraging the Resident to Eat
The nursing home must consult a physician whenever a nutritional problem occurs. Using the physician’s recommendations, the facility must design and implement an individualized care plan.
For example, too much noise can sometimes distract a dementia patient from eating. The facility should minimize noise disruptions during mealtime. The food may also not be appealing. Food that is brightly colored or served on a brightly colored plate may help encourage someone with dementia to eat.
Learn How You Can Protect Your Loved One
Establishing the root cause of your relative’s malnutrition is critical. You want to ensure your loved one’s health is not in danger. If the nursing home is causing your relative’s malnutrition, a nursing home malpractice attorney can help you take corrective steps to protect your loved one from further neglect.
As the go-to law firm for nursing home malpractice in Virginia, The Law Firm of Carlton F. Bennett, P.L.L.C. has a long history of fighting to correct nursing home neglect. Reach out for a free consultation today.