How Bedsores Develop
It’s difficult to place a parent or loved one in nursing home. When this time comes, we want the nursing home to take the best care possible of our loved ones, so that they are not injured, harmed, or neglected.
Unfortunately, nursing home neglect can sometimes lead to injury, including bedsores (which are also known as “pressure sores” and decubitus ulcers).
In most cases, bedsores are not inevitable, even if a resident is not mobile. (See our posting Are Pressure Sores and Bed Sores Avoidable?) Because most people do not understand how bed sores occur, I would like to take this opportunity to provide an explanation.
The Physiology of Bedsores/Pressure Sores
Bedsores are injuries to the skin that manifest as ulcers on the skin, and are most often found in areas where the skin protects large bony areas, such as the heel, tailbone, hips, and ankles. Bedsores most often occur when the body lies in one position for extended periods of time. They also are more likely to appear where the bone is near the skin; however, they can occur on almost all body areas.
Most of us are healthy, so we only spend perhaps 8 hours or so per day in bed sleeping. Even while sleeping, our bodies regulate themselves by changing positions a number of times every night.
Those who are not mobile often spend much more time “bedridden,” and in many cases are not able to turn themselves. They depend upon staff to shift their bodies so that the weight of their body does not press down on the same place for long periods.
When those who are bedridden are not properly turned, blood flow can become blocked in the area making contact with the bed (or, as often the case, the chair in which the person may be sitting for extended periods). When this occurs, oxygen can become constricted or cut off to the skin and underlying tissue, causing ulcerations to appear on the skin. The initial signs of bedsores can sometimes develop in only a few hours if the person affected is in poor health.
Additionally, bedsores can also develop from friction of the skin rubbing against other materials, such as when a patient is transferred from a stretcher to a bed, and/or if there is excessive moisture of the skin.
The Stages of Bedsores
Depending on the severity of the injury and lack of movement and oxygen to the skin, bedsores can appear in 4 different stages:
- Slight discoloration or bruising of the skin, typically exhibited by unnatural skin redness.
- Blistering or a small crater of the skin, or an abrasion marking,
- Deep wound due to the loss of skin, often looking like a deeper crater, which may result in exposing some fatty tissue and dead tissue that is yellow in color, and
- Noticeable loss of skin and other tissue exposing muscle, bone or tendons.
These stages progress as the ulcer gets progressively worse, and grows in size and severity. As the ulcer gets worse, it is more difficult to heal, and consequences are much more severe.
If undetected or untreated, bedsores can lead to a condition called cellulitis or a serious, potentially life-threatening infection. Loss of limbs can also occur. As a result, it is critical to have immediate medical attention at the first signs of a bedsore.
What Can You Do?
If you suspect that a loved one is developing (or has developed) a bedsore, your first action should be to contact a supervising staff member and/or medical director of the facility. Do not wait to take this action thinking it may get better or “go away on its own.”
Insist that your loved one have an immediate check-up. Find out what treatment is going to be administered. If the treatment does not sound right or seem to be enough, go with your instincts and seek a second opinion.
At our firm, we represent those who have sustained serious injuries and trauma, including bedsores, as the result of negligent treatment in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Often, such as in the case of bedsores, negligent treatment can quickly turn into serious, often life-threatening, illnesses.
If your loved one sustains serious consequences from a bedsore, please call us so that we can learn about your loved one’s case.