Why Do Bedsores Happen in Nursing Homes? Exploring Primary Causes and Environmental Factors

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Everyone deserves to age comfortably and with dignity, but unfortunately, that’s not what everyone gets. For countless seniors in nursing home facilities across the country, aging in an understaffed, subpar environment means learning to live with neglect. 

While countless signs can indicate nursing home mistreatment, few are as glaring as the presence of bedsores. These excruciating injuries may sound benign, but in reality, they areElderly Patient Holding Hands With Caregiver life-threatening and, perhaps most disturbingly, almost entirely preventable. 

If you are considering nursing home care for yourself or an elderly loved one, it’s essential to understand the nature of this injury and its associated risks. Doing so can help you spot the warning signs of a negligent environment and ensure the appropriate medical interventions are taking place. This article will explore why bedsores happen in nursing homes, their primary causes, and indirect contributors. 

Understanding the Nature of Bedsores (Pressure Ulcers)

Bedsores (also called pressure ulcers or sores) are a type of wound that occurs as a result of prolonged pressure on the skin. Without a reprieve, the pressure can cut off blood flow to the tissue, depriving it of oxygen and eventually causing it to die. The result is a painful wound that can grow large and lead to serious infections, including sepsis. 

Although anyone who remains immobile for long periods can develop a bedsore, most people automatically change their body positions throughout the day and night, thus avoiding bedsores. However, people with mobility issues who are bedridden, in a wheelchair, or paralyzed often depend on caregivers to help them reposition. Without assistance, they are at risk of developing bed sores—which is why bedsores are usually associated with negligent nursing home care. 

Bedsores are more likely to develop in areas of the body where the bones sit closest to the skin. Common bedsore locations include the ankles, back (especially protruding vertebrae), buttocks, elbows, heels, hips, and tailbone, but they can begin anywhere that sustains prolonged pressure. For example, a person frequently wearing a tight oxygen mask may develop bedsores on the bridge of their nose or the back of their head.

Direct Causes of Bedsores 

When discussing the development of nursing home bedsores, it’s important to separate the direct, physical causes of bedsores from the environmental factors that contribute to their occurrence. Here are the primary causes of bedsores: 

  • Pressure. As previously mentioned, pressure is a major contributor to bedsore development. However, it’s not the only primary cause of these wounds. It’s also important to note that in the context of nursing homes, prolonged light or medium pressure is typically how these injuries occur, but bedsores can also occur as a result of temporary, intense pressure. 
  • Friction. When fragile or thin skin rubs against clothing or bedding, it can become irritated and injured—especially when the skin is moist. Left untreated, these surface tears and abrasions can develop into bedsores. 
  • Shear. Shear stress occurs when two surfaces move in opposite directions, such as when an immobile nursing home patient frequently slides down an inappropriately elevated bed. In these situations, the skin typically sticks or stays in place while the bone moves with the body's weight. This movement can result in the stretching or tearing of blood vessels, which impairs blood circulation and contributes to bedsores. 
  • Excess moisture. Wetness, whether caused by sweat, urine, feces, or spilled fluids, can render skin softer and more vulnerable to damage from the above-mentioned causes: pressure, friction, and shear. Moist skin is also more likely to encourage bacterial growth, which can exacerbate bedsores. 

In a nursing home setting, these causes can be easily circumvented with repositioning, adequate hygiene, nutrition, thoughtfully designed supportive devices, and attentive care. In the absence of these proactive measures, nursing home residents are at risk for developing life-threatening bedsores and other injuries. 

Nursing Home Bedsores and Environmental Factors 

Whereas pressure, friction, shear, and moisture represent physical mechanisms that can trigger bedsore development, they aren’t the only contributing factors. In situations where a person is dependent on caregivers—such as in a skilled nursing facility or other senior living home—the presence of certain environmental factors also contribute to these wounds. 

The following are critical environmental factors that contribute to the development of bedsores in nursing homes:

  • Low-quality bedding and seating. Inexpensive, low-quality mattresses, sheets, cushions, and seating materials that do not effectively redistribute weight can contribute to bedsores. 
  • Poor cleanliness and hygiene issues. Nursing homes, especially those experiencing budgetary constraints or understaffing, may fail to keep residents’ living spaces clean and adequately assist them with personal hygiene. These factors can increase the risk of a minor abrasion, cut, or tear becoming a full-blown bedsore. 
  • Temperature and humidity control. A lack of climate control can lead to excess sweating, moisture-related skin damage, and bedsores. 
  • Insufficient mobility assistance. Mobility aids like wheelchairs, walkers, and handrails are critical to a resident’s ability to move around safely. When these supports are absent or insufficient, residents are more likely to develop injuries that later turn into bedsores. 
  • Poor lighting and sound controls. Poor lighting can prevent nursing home staff from detecting bedsores in their early stages. Additionally, high noise levels can prevent residents from getting deep, restful sleep, a lack of which can contribute to disturbed sleep and health deterioration. 
  • Understaffing. Understaffing in nursing homes is a serious issue that tremendously impacts residents’ health outcomes. In facilities where there is a low staff-to-resident ratio, patients receive inadequate attention and care, contributing to the development of severe bedsores. 
  • Negligence and abuse. When caregivers are negligent or abusive in caring for elderly patients, they may forget their responsibilities, failing to prevent, detect, and treat bedsores. The physical and emotional damage this does to nursing home residents cannot be overstated.

If you or a loved one developed bedsores in a nursing home, you may be eligible to pursue compensation through a nursing home abuse lawsuit. The best way to explore your options is in a free case evaluation with a trusted Costa Mesa personal injury attorney.

Case Barnett Law: Experienced Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys in Southern California

Although bedsores can happen to anyone, they are, ultimately, preventable—mainly when they occur in nursing homes. If your elderly family member or loved one developed bedsores as a result of nursing home neglect or abuse, you may be able to help them pursue compensation through an elder abuse lawsuit. Plus, reviewing your legal options won’t cost you a dime: Schedule a free case evaluation to speak with a compassionate attorney today.

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