Elderly 80 plus year old woman in a hospital bed.

It still surprises me that many people still don’t have a complete understanding of bed sores (also called pressure ulcers or decubitus ulcers) and just how serious it is. The name “bed sore” sounds innocuous, and can summon images of sore muscles from sitting too long or sleeping awkwardly perhaps. But it is much more serious and incredibly dangerous, even leading to death in some instances.

What are bed sores?

Bed sores are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue from prolonged pressure on the skin. They often occur on skin that covers bony areas of the body and common places for bed sores include the hips, back, ankles, and buttocks. Individuals who have conditions that limit their ability to change positions are most at risk to develop bed sores. It is a common condition for people who spend long periods in beds or wheelchairs.

How are bed sores prevented?

Bed sores can be difficult to treat depending on their severity. Treatment includes cleaning and dressing the wound along with frequent position changes in order to reduce pressure on the sore. Skin care, hydration, and turning and reposition off the pressure area at least every two hours (more often if in a wheelchair) is critical to prevention. Antibiotics will also be used to treat the infection that usually results from severe cases.

How/why do bed sores occur?

When an elderly patient or resident becomes bedridden or wheelchair bound, they are dependent on the nursing home, assisted living, or rehabilitation staff to perform frequent position changes to prevent bedsores from developing. If the staff fail to properly perform these position changes, bedsores and ulcers can develop. Besides the immediate pain that these bedsores cause, they can also lead to further deterioration of a resident’s health, including complications such as sepsis, a life-threatening infection.

How serious are bed sores as a medical issue?

As previously stated, bed sores are a very serious condition. It is not simply sore muscles or bruised tissue. “Pressure sores are graphic, ugly, smelly evidence of health care providers’ failure to take good enough care of the elderly.”–Primary Care Geriatrics Third Edition at 432. However, be forewarned that many of the pictures will be graphic in nature and not suitable for individuals who are sensitive to such imagery. But these pictures demonstrate the seriousness of what a bed sore injury looks like. At trial, when we have pictures, we place them in an envelope. This way during deliberations, the jury can decide whether they want to look at the pictures or not.

When are bed sores a form of neglect?

Bed sores may be the basis for neglect if a resident (who is bedridden or wheelchair bound) depends on caregivers at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or rehabilitation staff to perform position changes on their behalf. If these position changes are not performed frequent enough, bed sores may occur. This failure on the part of the caregiver may form the basis for a neglect or abuse legal case.

If you or a loved one has suffered from bed sores due to lack of action from a caregiver, contact our offices for a consultation.

Bottom Line: no one should die from an undiagnosed, untreated, infected bed sore from a stay in a nursing home.