A new study has revealed that elderly patients who live in care home are five times more likely to be left dehydrated than those who live at home.
The study, which is the most extensive yet on dehydration among elderly people, examined records from more than 21,000 patients aged over 65 who were admitted to two North London hospitals between January 2011 and December 2013.
Researchers from Oxford University, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Royal Free Hospital found that 1 in 8 care home residents admitted to Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust showed alarmingly high levels of sodium.
High sodium levels are a clear sign of dehydration and can cause confusion, low blood pressure, heart attacks and pneumonia particularly among the elderly. Previous studies have shown that elderly patients who arrive at hospital with high sodium levels are also much more likely to die during their stay.
The research, which has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, recounts anecdotal evidence of staff failing to offer residents enough water. It was also noted however that in some cases this may have been done deliberately to prevent incontinence and patients having to get up in the middle of the night to go to the loo.
I can understand care home staff not wanting to give patients too much to drink in the evenings to prevent incontinence. But the fact remains that care home staff have a duty of care to patients and the risks of dehydration far outweigh the benefits of this approach.
These findings reveal widespread neglect of care home residents and raise serious concerns about the quality of care that vulnerable patients are receiving. Care home residents are more likely to have conditions such as dementia which mean that even in ideal conditions they still need to be persuaded to drink. When they aren’t even being provided with enough fluids in the first place dehydration can obviously lead to severe consequences.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which inspects all care homes in England, were informed of the findings and said that ensuring residents received enough food and drink was central to their care home inspections.
Since introducing its new inspection regime last year, the CQC has judged almost a third of care homes to be either poor or requiring significant improvement.
It is completely unacceptable that elderly patients are dying so needlessly simply because they aren’t being given enough water to drink. We need to understand why this is happening. If patient dehydration is a widespread problem in nursing homes, we need to do more to ensure patient fluid intake is monitored correctly and staff are properly trained to recognise when patients are suffering with dehydration.
There are almost half a million elderly people living in residential and nursing homes in the UK today and these findings must be extremely distressing for the families who are entrusting the safety and well being of their loved ones to care home staff.
It is truly appalling that we have an under-funded care system in which those most vulnerable in society are put at risk of dehydration and neglect. We need a more robust system of inspections and the CQC needs to do more to uphold the legal rights of these patients and thoroughly scrutinise care home institutions for signs of poor standards of care.
If you have concerns about an elderly person being neglected or mistreated in a nursing or care home, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.
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