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Bedsores in Nursing Homes, Part 1

elderly woman.jpgBedsores, also known as pressure sores or decubitus ulcers, are common among nursing home residents. More than one in 10 nursing home residents experience this type of skin wound. Some are severe enough to expose bone or become infected.

Pressure sores are caused by long-term pressure on the same area of the body. They are common in nursing homes because many patients either lie or sit in the same positions for a long time. They usually develop over bones that come in contact with beds and chairs. Common areas affected are the elbows, heels, hips, shoulders, back and back of the head.

According to the Mayo Clinic, bedsores are much easier to prevent than treat, but prevention requires regular and sustained effort by nursing home staff members. Nursing homes with adequate staffing and protocols in place to prevent bedsores are most likely to succeed in this important effort.

Preventing Bedsores

Bedsore prevention efforts can include:

  • Making frequent position changes either when in bed or in a wheelchair
  • Trying cushions to relieve pressure on joints, buttocks and other bony areas
  • Purchasing a special mattress
  • Making bed elevation adjustments
  • Keeping skin clean and dry
  • Making sure that buttons, zippers and wrinkles are not sources of pressure on the skin
  • Inspecting skin daily
  • Keeping skin healthy by eating properly and drinking enough
  • Getting help with any difficult chores such as eating, repositioning and cleaning
  • Staying as active as possible to improve muscle tone and circulation that contributes to healthy skin. Many helpful exercises can be done sitting or lying down.
  • Stopping smoking

Complications From Bedsores

Bedsores are not just unsightly. They can cause serious conditions that can be life-threatening. These include:

  • Sepsis, a bacterial infection of the blood that enters the body through broken skin
  • Cellulitis, another type of infection that affects the skin and soft tissues. People who have damaged nerves often do not feel the pain that cellulitis can cause.
  • Joint and bone infections such osteomyelitis and septic arthritis
  • Cancer, especially a type of squamous cell carcinoma that is aggressive and usually requires surgery

A future blog post will discuss the nursing home residents most at risk for bedsores.

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