Understanding Bedsores: Causes, Stages, and Legal Implications

Elderly in nursing home.

If your parent or other loved one resides in a nursing home, you need to be aware of his or her risk of developing bedsores. This is particularly true if he or she is quite elderly, bedridden, or confined to a wheelchair.

Bedsore Definition

Bedsores are also known by a variety of other names, including the following:

  • Pressure sores
  • Pressure ulcers
  • Decubitus ulcers

Regardless of what they may be called, however, a bedsore is a breakdown in the skin that results in a lesion or sore that can easily become infected and lead to serious pain and medical issues, including life-threatening ones.

Bedsore Causes

The most common cause of bedsores is that a person spends too much time (more than 2-3 hours) lying or sitting in the same position, thereby cutting off blood flow to the skin in the affected part of parts of his or her body. If left untreated, the skin can break open and ultimately die.

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Contributing Risk Factors

Other factors, including the following, can play a part in causing or exacerbating bedsores:

  • Spinal cord injury that not only causes loss of voluntary movement, but also the loss of sensation below the point of injury
  • Inadequate nutrition and hydration
  • Incontinence
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Inadequate skincare

In addition, if your loved one suffers from a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, that negatively affects his or her blood flow, this, too, can increase the likelihood that he or she can develop a bedsore.

Possible Bedsore Complications

Unfortunately, developing a bedsore, especially one that refuses to heal, can lead to further complications, such as the following:

  • Cellulitis: infection of not only the skin, but also of the connecting soft tissues.
  • Osteomyelitis: infection of the bones
  • Septic arthritis: infection of the joints
  • Marjolin’s ulcers: a particular type of squamous cell carcinoma

In rare instances, an untreated or unhealed bedsore can lead to sepsis, a system-wide breakdown that occurs when the infection-fighting processes in your loved one’s body turn on. Ultimately, this causes to septic shock, a life-threatening drop in blood pressure that damages such organs as the kidneys, lungs, and liver and can quickly lead to death.

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Bedsore Stages

The medical community ranks the seriousness of a bedsore by assigning it to one of four stages.

Stage 1

In this first and mildest stage, the bedsore is just beginning to form. The skin has not yet broken down, but may become reddish in color. Your loved one may experience some mild itching, burning or pain at the site.

Stage 2

In this second stage, the bedsore becomes an actual wound as your loved one’s skin breaks open. The wound itself may appear as a blister full of pus. The area around it may swell and become quite warm to the touch.

Stage 3

In this third stage, the bedsore has burrowed its way through the skin’s second layer and into the underlying fatty tissues. At this point, the bedsore looks something like a crater with red edges and other signs of infection. It may leak pus or other fluids and likely has a distinctly foul odor. Any surrounding skin that has already died will appear black.

Stage 4

At this most serious stage, you likely will see all of the signs associated with a Stage 3 bedsore, plus some new ones. Your loved one’s bedsore has now become quite large and quite deep. You may actually see muscles, tendons, and bones.

Bedsore Locations

While bedsores can develop virtually anywhere on your loved one’s body, their most common locations vary depending on the location of his or her most at-risk areas that receive the most pressure.

Bedridden People

If your loved one is bedridden, he or she likely spends a lot of time lying on his or her back. This puts the following body parts at greatest risk for developing bedsores:

  • Back or sides of the head
  • Shoulder blades
  • Hips
  • Tailbone and lower back
  • Heels
  • Ankles

Perhaps surprisingly, the skin behind his or her knees is also vulnerable.

Wheelchair Users

If your loved one spends many hours a day in a wheelchair, his or her buttocks and tailbone are most at risk for developing bedsores. Other at-risk areas of his or her body include shoulders, spine, ankles and the backs of his or her arms and legs that rest against the chair.

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Bedsore Prevention

Bedsores are preventable and need not, and should not, occur, regardless of your loved one’s lack of movement due to his or her medical condition. Given that constant pressure is the main cause of bedsores, the most obvious prevention measure is to relieve or minimize the pressure.

For bedridden people, this means turning them from their backs to their sides to their stomachs every two hours or so. For wheelchair users, this means having them lift from the chair using their arms every 15 minutes or so, helping them if necessary. They should also frequently reposition their feet on the chair’s footrest.

Using a foam mattress and placing foam pillows and cushions under vulnerable areas are also good pressure-reducing practices.

Other bedsore prevention measures include the following:

  • Providing good skin care to keep the skin as smooth and supple as possible
  • Providing good nutrition and hydration
  • Providing daily skin checks
  • Providing good personal hygiene, especially to people experiencing incontinence

If your loved one has an underlying chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, make sure that he or she is taking, or being given the necessary medications.

Legal Implication of Bedsores

Unfortunately, nursing home residents are at greater risk for developing bedsores than people who live independently or receive in-home care. Several factors account for this, including:

  • Many nursing homes are understaffed.
  • Many do not adequately vet their prospective employees as to their level of knowledge and competence.
  • Many do not provide their caregivers with adequate training.
  • Many caregivers do not, in fact, really care about their patients’s health and well-being, viewing their jobs as just that: a job and a paycheck.

The result for far too many nursing home residents, especially those with limited mobility, is the development of persistent bedsores that refuse to heal and may require surgery to repair if they are allowed to progress to Stage 3 or Stage 4 status.

Given that it can take several weeks or even months for such a progression to occur, a Stage 3 or Stage 4 bedsore is an irrefutable indication of ongoing nursing home neglect. Your loved one, or you on his or her behalf, therefore has the right to sue the nursing home for failing to provide the required level of care.

Obtaining Legal Help

If your loved one resides in a Florida nursing home and has developed bedsores, it is important that you contact Gordon & Partners as early as possible. As one of Florida’s premier personal injury law firms, our team of dedicated attorneys has been helping injured clients, including those who experienced nursing home abuse and neglect, for over 30 years. We stand ready, willing, and able to help you and your loved one, too, get the compensation you deserve.

So contact us today. We offer you a free, confidential, and no-obligation case evaluation, and we never charge you a legal fee unless and until we successfully resolve your case.

Call 1 (855) 722-2552 or complete a Free Case Evaluation form today.

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