Bedsores & Nursing Home Neglect Facts
Bedsores are possibly the most common sign of nursing home neglect in Pennsylvania. Knowing how to recognize bedsores and then bringing them up with the staff a nursing home or assisted living facility is absolutely essential to health of your elderly loved one. As you’ll learn in this article, bedsores are easily treated but lead to serious health complications without adequate medical attention.
What Is A Bedsore?
A bedsore is a wound that develops on the skin and underlying tissue after prolonged pressure on a certain spot. Because many residents of a nursing home are fairly immobile, and may spend long periods of time lying in bed, the elderly are particularly prone to develop bedsores.
Bedsores may also be referred to as:
- Pressure Sores
- Pressure Ulcers
- Decubitus Ulcers
Thankfully, bedsores in nursing homes are readily visible, so noticing them is often simple. Every time you visit your loved one in their nursing home, remain vigilant and check the areas most prone to develop bedsores. It’s just a question of knowing where to check, and we’ll discuss that in the next section.
There are three main causes that may result in the development of a bedsore. We already mentioned the first: sustained pressure.
Bedsores Caused By Sustained Pressure
Usually, bedsores develop in parts of the body where a jutting bone pushes skin and tissue into a surface, like a wheelchair or bed. The most common areas, and places you should check for bedsores when you visit your loved one in a nursing home or other elder care facility, are the spine, hips, heels of feet, elbows, tailbone, and shoulder blades. In these places, skin can become trapped between bone and an external surface, cutting off blood flow to the location. Without an adequate amount of blood, skin cells become damaged and eventually die, creating a wound.
Bedsores Caused By Friction
In other cases, bedsores may develop on an elderly nursing home resident’s body because their skin has been dragged across a surface. Friction can weaken, and even break the skin, creating a bedsore.
Bedsores Caused By Shear
Bedsores can also develop from shear, when two touching surfaces move in opposite directions. For example, when a hospital bed is raised, an elderly nursing home patient may slide downwards. Skin laying close to bone can slide upwards during this process, cutting off blood flow to that part of the body. This may make the skin more vulnerable to the dangers of sustained pressure.
What Can A Nursing Home Do About Bedsores?
Bedsores are entirely preventable, and with adequate, compassionate care, bedsores should hardly ever develop on nursing home residents. Both Pennsylvania State and Federal laws require the employees of nursing homes to reposition patients who cannot do so of their own accord. Generally, preventing bedsores is as simple as that.
If bedsores do develop, they should be treated like any other wound, with a disinfectant and dressing to allow the sore to heal. As we’ll see, bedsores become harder to treat, and exponentially more dangerous to an elderly nursing home resident’s health, as they progress.
Bedsores are classified in four categories depending on their severity.
Bedsore Stage 1
In Stage 1, a bedsore has not yet broken the sign. It will look like a pink or reddened area on the skin, like a sunburn. The nursing home resident may report feelings of itchiness, pain, or tenderness.
Bedsore Stage 2
A Stage 2 bedsore is bright red and swollen. Because the upper layers of the skin have begun to die, a blister may form or may have already broken. This is the last stage at which a bedsore is fairly simple to treat in a nursing home.
Bedsore Stage 3
In Stage 3, the bedsore has broken the skin and extended into deeper layers of tissue. It may appear as a crater, or large opening on the surface of the skin. At this point, the bedsore is highly likely to become infected, and should receive immediate medical attention.
Bedsore Stage 4
Stage 4 bedsores have gone far below the skin, affecting fat, muscle, and even bone tissue. Dead tissue, or eschar, will appear black either around the rim of the bedsore or within it.
What Happens If Bedsores Are Left Untreated?
As we mentioned previously, bedsores in stage 1 and 2 are fairly easy to treat and, in a nursing home that follows state and federal elder care regulations, should have been spotted early on. In some tragic circumstances, a nursing home resident’s painful bedsores may be ignored by a negligent nursing home staff. An untreated bedsore can lead to many life-threatening conditions.
Sepsis is a form of infection that occurs when bacteria enters the bloodstream through an open wound. The bacteria can spread throughout the body rapidly, and can eventually cause organ failure.
Cellulitis is another form of infection, but one that remains on the skin and subdermal soft tissues connected to it. It appears as a red, blotchy pattern on the skin. Besides pain and an unpleasant sensation of heat, cellulitis may spread to the bloodstream causing serious complications. In 2010 alone, cellulitis caused 27,000 deaths, many in nursing homes.
Bone and joint infections
An infection in a bedsore can spread both to bones and joints. A bone infection, or osteomyelitis, can weaken limbs and make them unusable. Joint infections, or septic arthritis, damages cartilage and tissue. Both forms of infection can lead to other fatal conditions.
A form of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma may develop in unhealed wounds like bedsores. Squamous cell carcinoma is very aggressive and metastasizes quickly, requiring immediate surgical intervention.
Are Bedsores A Sign Of Nursing Home Neglect Or Abuse?
In a caring elder facility, with attentive staff, bedsores should occur rarely, if at all. Again, the Pennsylvania State and federal governments have put strict regulations in place to prevent bedsores. If bedsores do develop on your elderly loved one in a nursing home, it may be a sign of nursing home neglect.
For more common signs of nursing home neglect, visit our “Common Signs of Nursing Home Neglect” FAQ.
If you have noticed a bedsore on your loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you may be able to hold the responsible parties liable in a personal injury lawsuit. To learn more about your legal options, visit our “What To Do If You Suspect Elder Abuse Or Neglect” FAQ or contact our elder abuse attorneys directly.