Keeping Nursing Residents Hydrated and Well Cared For May Help Prevent Dangerous Episodes of Delirium

can dehydration cause delirium

An altered mental status is a difficult condition for nursing home residents to manage on their own, especially when symptoms can present slowly and brushed off for age-related memory loss, stress, medication side-effects, lack of sleep, or other conditions like dementia. Delirium, sometimes referred to as “sundowning” or “psychosis”, is one of those conditions that if misdiagnosed or treated with overmedication, can worsen quickly with irreversible outcomes including long-term cognitive impairments.

Delirium has been defined by The American Delirium Society (ADS) as a state of confusion that comes on very suddenly and lasts hours to days. If a nursing home resident becomes delirious, they may have hallucinations, disorganized thinking, difficulty understanding daily tasks, and inability to pay attention and be unaware of their environment or trust of the people in it. Delirium affects nearly 18% of long-term care residents and has a staggering 40% one-year mortality rate.

Nursing homes have been known to manage residents with disruptive behaviors in less productive ways, and many things can make delirium (and other mental conditions) worse, such as:

  • abuse and neglect
  • physical restraints
  • bed rest
  • bladder catheters and feeding tubes
  • non-essential surgeries
  • unnecessary hospitalization
  • infections and illness (influenza and COVID-19)
  • extreme temperatures
  • dehydration and malnutrition
  • pain
  • stressful environments
  • antipsychotic medications
  • wrongful eviction

A 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society proved no compelling signal to support the routine use of antipsychotic medications to reduce delirium.

Delirium and Dementia

Delirium is an often-undiagnosed syndrome and commonly misdiagnosed for dementia symptoms. The two diseases have mostly been viewed as separate and distinct conditions; however, they may be related as delirium can cause permanent injury to the brain and result in a higher likelihood of dementia. Also, for someone who has an infection and battling dementia, delirium has been associated with an increased risk of death.

In many cases, medical conditions are treatable when caught early. However, failing to diagnose or treat a medical condition can often lead to further injury or death. This is especially true for nursing home residents, who are likely already vulnerable to illness and injury. Physicians and other providers involved in the long-term care environment should look for the causes of delirium and prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Attorneys for Individuals & Families Affected by Delirium Related Injuries

If you have had a family member diagnosed with delirium, who was not looked after appropriately by medical staff or care personnel, please contact our Chicago nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys to discuss your situation. We can also help if a loved one has suffered as a result of a misdiagnosis or missed medical diagnosis. Our consultations are always free, confidential, and handled by one of our skilled attorneys and call us toll-free at 1-877-374-1417 or 312-332-2872.

Also read: Behavioral Health Services Missing In U.S. Nursing Homes

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