Bed sores are some of the most common injuries suffered by nursing home residents. It’s a common misconception that these sores, which are also called pressure ulcers or decubitus ulcers, are merely painful annoyances. On the contrary, pressure ulcers are serious injuries which can cause debilitating health problems, especially in elderly individuals. In extreme cases, they can even be fatal. In this blog post, nursing home abuse attorney Brent Wieand will explain how and why bed sores develop, including the do’s and don’ts of getting proper medical treatment, and how to take action against facilities which provide negligent care.
What Causes Bed Sores to Develop?
Many medical conditions which afflict elderly people are the byproducts of natural biological functions. In most situations, no caregiver or environmental factor can be “blamed” for an elderly person developing arthritis or losing their vision — these conditions are caused by factors like heredity and cellular degeneration, and are accepted as natural parts of the aging process.
It is very important for the loved ones of nursing home residents to be aware that bed sores do not fall into the same category. Pressure ulcers are rarely a natural consequence of aging, and in many cases, just the opposite is true. If your parent or loved one is developing bed sores, the difficult truth is that nursing home negligence may be to blame. To understand why, we need to take a closer look at what causes pressure ulcers to develop.
Bed sores generally form when bed-bound persons spend long periods of time in the same position — for example, elderly residents with mobility issues or very severe illnesses.
As non-stop pressure is continuously applied to the same area of the body, that area is slowly deprived of proper circulation. When blood flow is restricted for prolonged periods of time, the affected area can’t receive the oxygen it needs to stay healthy.
This sustained oxygen deprivation eventually results in tissue damage, typically within a matter of weeks. It may take several months for the sore to become severe. It depends on factors like the firmness of the surface, whether the patient has underlying health conditions like diabetes, and whether the patient is a smoker.
Bed sores can form anywhere, but are especially prone to developing on bony areas which lack padding from fat and muscle. Pressure ulcers are most likely to form on the following areas:
- Inner Knees
- Lower Back
Because bed sores take weeks or months to develop, the disturbing implication is that afflicted residents go prolonged periods over a span of weeks without being turned, repositioned, or even having their bed sheets changed. Pressure ulcers are not sudden, spontaneous, or unavoidable medical events — they are, in many cases, the result of long-term caregiver neglect. If left untreated, they can become infected and cause the wrongful death of the patient.
How to Treat Pressure Ulcers at Home
Before discussing methods of treatment for pressure ulcers, it is critical to emphasize the importance of consulting with a licensed healthcare professional. Even the most well-intentioned of loved ones can accidentally aggravate or prolong pressure ulcers and their symptoms by rendering inappropriate or insufficient treatment.
To help your loved one recover from the bed sore(s) as rapidly as possible, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend taking the following measures:
- First and foremost, speak to a doctor as soon as possible. He or she will provide expert guidance on exactly what you need to do. Follow your doctor’s instructions closely and do not deviate from his or her prescribed treatment regimen without discussing the matter first.
- Keep pressure off the afflicted area so that circulation can gradually improve.
- On furniture and bed sheets, sprinkle down a light coating of specially designed medical-grade powder to help reduce friction.
- Be sure your loved one gets good nutrition. Caloric and vitamin deficiencies strain the body’s reserves and make healing more difficult.
The NLM and NIH also explicitly warn against the following two actions:
- Do not rub or massage the skin surrounding the bed sore. The instinct to cradle a wounded area is counterproductive in this case, as excessive handling can actually make the pressure ulcer worse.
- Do not use cushions that are ring- or donut-shaped (such as the neck cushions commonly used on airplanes and long car rides). These types of pillows can discourage circulation and further aggravate the sore.
What to Do if You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Caregiver Neglect
If you suspect your loved one’s pressure ulcers are the result of nursing home neglect or intentional abusive treatment, you deserve to get the facts. Don’t be afraid to press staff members for clear and concrete answers to tough questions. Remember, elder care facilities have a legal duty of care to their patients. If a home breaches this duty of care and a patient is seriously harmed as a result, not only is it a serious violation of the nursing home resident’s legal rights, but moreover, may be grounds for financial compensation.
If the facility cannot provide you with timely and thorough answers to your questions, or if management or staff respond to your concerns with a dismissive or hostile attitude, it may be time to consider involving a nursing home injury lawyer who can investigate the situation on your behalf. The sooner you confront the home about the injuries, the sooner you can remove your loved one from a dangerous environment and get him or her the medical care they need to recover.
To schedule a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call attorney Brent Wieand at (800) 481-5206. Brent will never charge you any fees unless he recovers compensation for you, and will always keep your information private.