Dehydration and Poor Hygiene in Nursing Homes

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Residents of nursing homes should be provided with adequate food and water, as well as any assistance needed with grooming and personal hygiene. However, all too often, this does not occur. Numerous cases of dehydration and poor hygiene have been documented within nursing homes across the US. These conditions are harmful in and of themselves, but they can lead to lasting injury and even contribute to death in a worst-case scenario.


It is incumbent on nursing home staff members to provide every resident with enough water to keep them properly hydrated on a daily basis. Dehydration is a very serious concern, and it can lead to dramatic repercussions. In fact, dehydration alone can lead to death very quickly – much more quickly than malnutrition.

In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, 40 nursing home residents were tracked for fluid intake. Of those, 39 did not receive enough fluids daily. In fact, 25 of the 40 residents studied had medical conditions that could be directly related to a lack of hydration. This problem was most common with:

  • Residents with cognitive disorders
  • Residents with mobility issues
  • Non-native English speakers
  • Residents with no family or friends to help them at meal times

It is also important to note that one significant cause of dehydration noted in the study was a lack of staff (understaffing) at the nursing home in question. The study also noted a lack of training on the part of staff members on how to provide fluids for patients who do not prefer water.

Poor Hygiene

Good hygiene is essential to limit bacterial growth and to prevent health problems from developing. Everyone needs to pay attention to good hygiene habits, such as teeth brushing, bathing, hand washing and more. However, for nursing home residents, this can be a very real challenge. Many find it difficult to dress, much less take care of their hygiene needs. Unfortunately, many nursing homes do nothing to help this, and staff often neglect patients with limited mobility or cognitive problems.

This neglect can lead to very serious problems. For instance, a lack of proper bathing can cause bacteria to grow at a rapid pace. Most elderly residents’ immune systems are not up to the task of protecting them from this threat. A lack of teeth brushing can lead to cavities and gum disease, as well as a host of other problems.

It is the responsibility of nursing home staff members to assist residents with personal hygiene related tasks, such as bathing, changing clothes, brushing their teeth, changing diapers and more. If this is neglected, it is possible for bacteria to grow and spread from one resident to another, essentially compromising the entire facility and the health of all residents within it, as well as potentially affecting staff members.

The Cause of Dehydration and Poor Hygiene in Nursing Homes

The most prevalent cause of both dehydration and poor hygiene in nursing homes is understaffing. When there are too few staff members to care for the needs of residents, all residents will begin to suffer. Of course, there are also many cases of intentional neglect and even abuse, with staff members withholding water as a punishment, or refusing to assist residents with hygiene routines and needs.

All of these situations fall under neglect or abuse and are detrimental to the health of residents. It is essential that nursing homes be held accountable for the actions of their staff members, as well as the decisions of their owners and managers that lead to understaffing. All three of these (neglect, abuse and understaffing) have been the subjects of lawsuits filed in virtually every state of the country in recent years. However, despite the growing awareness of the problem, more and more nursing homes are coming under fire for abuse and neglect.

If Your Loved One Has Been Abused or Neglected

If your loved one has been abused or neglected by nursing home staff, either intentionally or unintentionally, your first act should be to call your state’s elder abuse hotline to report the situation. Next, you should contact an experienced nursing home attorney to discuss your case and help you decide on your next steps.