Causes of Diarrheal Disease in Nursing Homes

elderly person clutching their stomach

Diarrheal disease is the chronic occurrence of diarrhea, often caused by the transmission of infectious organisms. Globally, diarrhea is a major health crisis. The World Health Organization says that it’s the second leading cause of death worldwide in children under 5 years old, and it’s responsible for approximately 525,000 child deaths every year.

Fortunately, the U.S. doesn’t face the same challenges as other countries concerning its quality of water, which is one of the most common culprits of chronic diarrhea. However, diarrheal disease is a problem for one group of vulnerable Americans—nursing home residents.

The Elderly Are More Susceptible to Conditions That Cause Diarrhea

Because older adults produce less gastric acid than younger people, they’re more susceptible to conditions like gastroenteritis, which often leads to persistent diarrhea. This condition is typically caused by norovirus exposure, which can quickly lead to outbreaks in nursing homes. For example, a foodborne norovirus from a March 2018 turkey dinner resulted in an acute gastroenteritis outbreak that affected 11 people, including nursing home residents and staff.

Though most diarrheal outbreaks are viral in origin, some stem from bacteria. Whatever the cause, it’s essential that nursing homes have protocols in place both to prevent and to address outbreaks. Failure to do so can lead to hospitalization or death among residents.

Most Common Factors Contributing to Diarrheal Outbreaks in Nursing Homes

From infections to the vulnerability of elderly residents, several factors contribute to diarrheal disease outbreaks in nursing homes. A few of the most common include:

  • Viral gastroenteritis
  • Bacterial gastroenteritis
  • Norovirus (a common cause of gastroenteritis)
  • Clostridium difficile
  • Vulnerability of residents to infection due to age, co-occurring conditions
  • Failure to safely cook and handle food
  • Contaminated water
  • Failure of staff to keep facilities clean
  • Failure of staff to isolate patients with diarrhea-inducing diseases

Many of these factors can occur simultaneously, such as improperly cooked food that causes a norovirus, which spreads among patients due to a failure to keep facilities clean.

Non-infectious diseases, coeliac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease can also cause chronic diarrhea among individual residents. In these cases, nursing home staff and doctors should attend to the needs of the affected resident by providing medical treatment and ensuring the hydration of the resident.

Possible Impact of Diarrheal Diseases on the Elderly

Perhaps the most common effect of diarrhea among elderly nursing home residents is dehydration, which can be life-threatening to an older adult if left untreated. Common side effects of diarrhea-related dehydration include:

  • Fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Muscle cramps
  • Frequent urination
  • Dizziness after standing, which could increase the risk of falling

If Your Loved One Is Suffering From Nursing Home Negligence, You Have Options

Sawyer Law Firm represents nursing home residents and their families throughout Alabama. In many cases, diarrheal disease and other health risks are caused by nursing home negligence. If you suspect your loved one is getting inadequate care or is being abused in a facility, you have legal options available.

Contact Alabama nursing home abuse lawyer J.P. Sawyer to schedule a free, no-obligation, confidential case review. Let us hear more about your case and help you understand what you might do to ensure the health and well-being of your loved one.

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