Elderly individuals in nursing homes and assisted living facilities can suffer from some different injuries, particularly if abuse is occurring. These include broken bones, infections and more. However, bedsores are at once one of the most common and most threatening injuries possible. Any patient who has limited mobility is at risk of developing bedsores, but even patients not in need of bedrest can develop these wounds.
What Are Bedsores?
Bedsores are a type of ulcer caused by unalleviated pressure. When a patient is bed-bound, he or she should be moved regularly and repositioned. This alleviates the pressure on points of the body and allows better circulation of blood through the skin and air against the skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Bedsores are injuries to skin and underlying tissue resulting from prolonged pressure on the skin. Bedsores most often develop on skin that covers bony areas of the body, such as the heels, ankles, hips and tailbone.”
Bedsores are graded on a scale of 1 to 4, with one being the least serious, and 4 being potentially life threatening. If left untreated, bedsore can quickly escalate, moving from a merely red and irritated spot to an open, infected wound that may go through the skin, underlying tissues and muscle, all the way to the bone. In these cases, the bone infection may also set in, complicating treatment significantly.
Within a nursing home, there are several contributing factors that can cause or exacerbate bedsores/pressure ulcers. These include constant pressure, in which the body remains in the same position for very long periods of time. Blood flow is blocked to the area, as is air circulation. The skin eventually begins to die, creating a wound. The second factor is called shear, and is a situation in which the body moves, but the skin remains in the same position.
For example, if a hospital bed is adjusted to sit the patient upright, the body bends, but the skin remains in the same place, and stretches. This can cause tearing, creating an open wound. The third factor is friction and is more common with elderly individuals due to the thinness of their skin. Finally, there is the problem of excessive moisture. Sweat, urine, and even feces may cause a situation in which skin is more likely to break down and create pressure ulcers.
The Threat of Bedsores in Nursing Homes
Many patients within nursing homes are at a higher risk of developing bedsores (pressure ulcers). These include patients who are required to stay in bed, those who use wheelchairs and more. The key to both reducing the risk of developing these sores and mitigating their seriousness is professional care and frequent movement. Patients should regularly be moved to new positions to eliminate pressure and restore circulation. This will help to prevent new pressure ulcers from developing, as well as aid in the healing of existing bedsores.
There are quite a few potential threats within nursing homes that can make it easier for patients to develop bedsores/pressure ulcers. For instance, not having the regular care to clean and dry the skin can contribute. If a patient is immobile for long periods of time and is not moved regularly, this can also create pressure sores. A lack of nutrition can make skin more susceptible to developing bedsores. Finally, complications from poor bladder control can create a situation in which bedsores are formed. All of these situations can indicate the potential for elder abuse within a nursing home, as they are all part of the normal care that should be provided to your loved one by the facility’s staff.
Protecting Your Loved Ones
Bedsores are painful and debilitating at best, and life-threatening at worst. If left untreated, they can quickly lead to a wrongful death through negligence. In fact, some lawsuits have been filed against nursing homes in the US for just this reason. If you suspect that your loved one’s bed sores are the result of neglect or abuse, it is crucial to contact an experienced elder abuse attorney to discuss the situation, as well as to call your state’s elder abuse hotline and report it.