Dehydration Can Cause Hypernatremia, Especially In Nursing Homes

Hydration is critical to life, particularly in the elderly. According to Reuters, nursing home patients are more likely to be dehydrated than their counterparts of the same age in the community. As we grow older, the ability for our bodies to feel thirst as a sign of dehydration reduces. And, on top of that, it's more difficult for our bodies to regulate temperature when we are dehydrated.

However, it's important to understand that severe dehydration can cause a serious health condition called hypernatremia that could result in death, particularly in the elderly. While there may be medical conditions that can cause hypernatremia, such as chronic vomiting, serious cases of dehydration that lead to hypernatremia should be considered as neglect cases and reported. Here's what you need to know. 

Hypernatremia Explained 

The human body uses water for many purposes, including digestion, lubrication of joints, shock absorption of the spinal column and brain, regulation of body temperature, and many others. To do all of these things, there needs to be a proper balance of water in the composition of the body. When the water in the body is reduced, other chemicals and elements in the body become more concentrated. The main concern here is the imbalance of water and sodium in the blood. 

Risks of Hypernatremia

A reduction of water in the blood increases the sodium content in the blood; this, in turn, causes the brain to essentially shrivel up, which can cause seizures and the patient can slip into a coma. In severe cases, death can occur. Rehydration is crucial to surviving hypernatremia; however, it needs to be done correctly or the cells in the patient's brain could rupture, which an elderly patient will typically not be able to recover from. 

Except in cases of chronic vomiting and severe diarrhea, the majority of the time all of this can be avoided in nursing homes by simply ensuring the residents are properly hydrated to reduce the risks of severe hydration and the risk of hypernatremia. 

Medical & Legal Issues 

If you believe that an elderly loved one suffered unnecessarily from dehydration and hypernatremia, speak with a law firm like Garrison Law Firm that specializes in nursing home abuse. One of the first things that will need to be done to determine whether or not there is a case of neglect or abuse is to have a geriatric medical specialist review and study the medical records of your loved one, as well as any logs or other records the nursing home may have.