Elderly Choking & Dysphagia
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Many residents of nursing homes suffer from respiratory systems conditions, which makes it difficult for them to breathe on their own. For these types of patients, mealtimes are especially dangerous—a time when nursing home staff should be constantly monitoring or physically assisting the patient.
Suffocation is entirely preventable. If a patient has a known respiratory problem, preventative steps should be taken to protect them; for example, their food should be cut up into small bites or they should only be given soft foods. Staff should also be vigilant in watching them during meal times to protect them from choking.
Unfortunately, many facilities suffer from understaffing issues and meals become a process of just handing out the food instead of giving the attentive care that residents deserve. This can not only lead to issues related to malnutrition and dehydration, but it can also lead to patients who suffer from severe choking incidents. Choking can lead to injuries to the brain, as well as other serious medical complications.
Clogged Breathing Tubes
Similar to choking, nursing home patients can also suffer from clogged breathing tubes. Many residents rely entirely on respiratory devices to breathe properly. Such residents are vulnerable to severe injuries and require constant monitoring and device cleaning to ensure their safety. Unfortunately, that does not always occur, causing clogging or damage to tubing devices. If a breathing tube becomes clogged oxygen is cut off from the brain, leading to severe, permanent brain damage or even death.
Causes of Choking
Choking happens when an object gets stuck in a person’s airway and makes it difficult or impossible to breathe. Choking is potentially life-threatening and classifies as a medical emergency. Several conditions and incidents can cause choking, especially for seniors and young children. Prevention provides the best method of stopping choking incidents.
Incidents Leading to Choking
Choking can result from a wide variety of problems. While medical causes are possible, causes of choking usually involve food or eating. Some causes of choking include the following.
Food that gets stuck in the windpipe can cause a blockage that makes it impossible to breathe. Some choking accidents happen because of blockages caused by large pieces of food.
Small objects can also cause blockages in the windpipe and cause choking. This is usually a concern for small children, but it can happen to seniors as well.
Dehydration (Lack of Saliva)
Experiencing dehydration can reduce the amount of saliva in a person’s mouth. Saliva helps break down food, making it soft enough to swallow. If there is not enough saliva, pieces of food may get stuck on the way down.
Asthma refers to a condition in which the lining of the windpipe becomes inflamed and restricts airflow. Asthma can turn into a fatal medical condition if a victim fails to treat it.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD involves a series of conditions that can make it difficult to exhale. Because of this, victims may struggle to breathe in general. COPD develops over time and has a variety of treatment options based on the symptoms.
Other causes of choking with different risk factors for each age group exist as well. If you think someone is choking, apply emergency medical techniques or seek emergency care right away.
Choking Risk Factors
Choking may present a problem for anyone at any age. It can happen to anyone, but specific groups may live with a higher risk of choking. Seniors, especially those who wear false teeth or have respiratory system conditions, are at risk of unintentional death from choking, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These groups are more likely to ingest something that is too big for their windpipe or experience a medical emergency related to breathing. People with dysphagia (swallowing problems) may choke at some point as well. Because they have difficulty swallowing, food may get stuck in their throats as they swallow.
Choking hazards fall into several categories. Choking often results from something that is too large to swallow safely. Several other things may cause someone to choke. Choking hazards are listed below.
Hard foods, like apples, may cause choking hazards. Elderly residents at a nursing home, for example, have caregivers who cut their food, and they may fail to cut their food into small enough pieces.
Drinking a high volume of liquids at one time can cause choking. Like hard foods, a large amount of water in the windpipe that encounters a blockage, such as an air bubble or a restricted windpipe, can block the windpipe entirely.
Allergens and Asthma Irritants
Allergens and asthma irritants can cause inflammation in the respiratory system, which can restrict airflow. Immediate treatment with medical devices or medication may prevent more serious problems.
Like hard foods, small hard objects may get stuck in the windpipe. Young children or seniors may swallow things that can cause blockages in the respiratory system.
Dysphagia refers to a condition in which people have trouble swallowing. It can cause choking in situations where someone would otherwise eat safely. It often requires medical intervention to treat.
Every choking hazard and choking incident classifies as a medical emergency. Seek medical assistance immediately if someone begins to choke. Avoiding choking hazards is often the best way to prevent choking incidents, especially for seniors and young children.
Effects of Choking
The effects of choking can have both mental and physical consequences for people. The physical effects remain short-term, but severe choking incidents can leave long-term health effects. The mental effects can be problematic for anyone who has had a choking incident, although these effects usually dissipate over time. Every choking incident should receive medical attention. You will need the medical record from the incident to give you your Los Angeles nursing home abuse lawyer if you decide to sue.
Short-Term Effects of Choking
The short-term effects of choking depend on each situation. Minor choking incidents may not leave prolonged effects, while more severe cases can lead to long-lasting problems. According to Harvard Health’s article, Choking alert: Strategies for safe swallowing, the short-term effects of choking include the following.
Choking leads to difficulty breathing, which can persist after the blockage resolves. Choking involving a foreign object can damage tissue, leaving the trachea (windpipe) inflamed and constricted. Choking involving asthma or another condition can also leave the trachea inflamed, making it difficult to breathe.
The lack of air caused by choking leads to dizziness, which worsens the longer the brain does not receive oxygen.
A lack of air over a long period of time can lead to unconsciousness. Once it sets in, severe medical conditions can follow.
Choking can eventually lead to death if the brain and organs do not receive oxygen for an extended period of time. Removing the blockage and beginning CPR can prevent death or delay serious conditions until advanced medical help arrives.
Choking often causes coughing, a physical response by the body to try to expel the blockage through force. Coughing against a hard object, particularly one with sharp edges, can leave scratches and punctures in the tissue of the trachea or larynx. This damage may heal over time but will remain uncomfortable in the short-term.
If the blockage rests in the larynx, coughing or trying to talk can strain the muscles of the larynx. This will make it difficult or uncomfortable to talk for a short period and will resolve itself in time.
Wheezing is a symptom in which a blockage in the trachea lets some air through. The sound that the trachea makes when trying to force air out or in creates the wheezing sound. Wheezing refers to a partial blockage and can still result in other choking-related problems.
Fear of Choking
People who survive a choking incident may have a lasting fear of choking again. This often resolves itself in a short period of time but may become a lasting concern that could develop into a more serious condition.
Mental and Physical Stress
Choking creates mental and physical stress for people that survive it as well as their loved ones.
If someone is choking, seek medical treatment immediately. Early intervention can prevent serious complications and conditions related to choking.
Long-Term Effects of Choking
Choking can cause long-term effects for anyone that survives. The long-term effects vary for each person based on the type of choking they experienced. If a person chokes on a hard object, tissue damage may cause a long-term problem. The edges of the object can cut or puncture the tissue of the trachea, which can take a long time to heal.
If the choking incident left the person deprived of oxygen for too long, they may experience lasting brain damage. Lasting brain damage may require therapy to recover from.
Choking Risk Factors
Anyone can choke, but some populations live at a higher risk. Seniors are especially vulnerable to the effects of choking when it comes to age-related changes to eating and swallowing. Some of the choking risk factors include the following.
Dysphagia is a condition that makes it hard to swallow. People with Dysphagia may get something caught in their throat and choke.
Respiratory System Conditions
Medical conditions that change how people breathe can increase their risk of choking.
Asthma is a condition that causes inflammation in the respiratory system, reducing the size of the airway and increasing the chances of choking.
COPD is a collection of respiratory conditions that develop over a long time. They affect how people breathe and can make it difficult to swallow.
Pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid outside the lungs that can crush the lungs if the fluid does not drain. It reduces a person’s lung capacity, reducing their ability to breathe.
In any case, respiratory problems should receive medical attention. Seek medical treatment immediately.
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Respiratory System Conditions
Respiratory system conditions are medical illnesses or diseases that affect the lungs or how people breathe. These conditions can be serious and often require medication and medical interventions to treat. Left untreated, respiratory system conditions can be fatal. Even mild conditions can develop into more complicated problems and should be taken seriously from the onset of symptoms. Respiratory conditions can make choking more likely.
Most Common Respiratory Conditions
There are many respiratory conditions that can develop over time or from another illness. Some of the most common conditions also require consistent and extensive medical interventions to treat. As people age, they are more likely to develop a respiratory condition. Some of the most common respiratory conditions include:
- Asthma: Asthma is very common among respiratory conditions and can be treated with an inhaler. Asthma causes inflammation of your airways, which makes it hard to breathe.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD): COPD changes the way that patients breathe, making it difficult to exhale. It can develop over time and is treated by a series of treatment options that fit the associated symptoms.
- Bronchitis: Bronchitis is a condition where patients cough often because the glands that produce mucus in the lungs are overactive. This usually happens when there is an infection, and it is treated with antibiotics and other treatments.
- Emphysema: Emphysema is a type of COPD (inability to exhale) caused by damage to lung tissue. There is no treatment for emphysema since the damage to the lungs is so extensive, it becomes irreparable.
- Cancer: Lung cancer can develop for several reasons since it is an out-of-control reproduction of mutated lung cells. It is treated like any other form of cancer with radiation or surgery.
- Pleural effusion: Pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid just outside the lungs that interferes with how people breathe. The fluid limits breathing and can crush the lungs until they cannot work. The treatment involves removing the fluid and closing the access point where it is leaking in.
- Pneumonia: Pneumonia is a lung infection and is very common. While many people recover from it, it can lead to complications and be fatal under certain conditions.
There are many other respiratory conditions and treatment options. Anyone that develops a respiratory condition or is showing signs of a condition should seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent complications.
Medical Choking Risk
Choking is a common risk for everyone but is especially important to examine in seniors, children, and people with respiratory conditions. Choking is a blockage of the airways that stops someone from breathing. One of the most common ways for someone to choke is to eat something that is too big and gets stuck in their throat.
To avoid everyday choking hazards, make sure that the food someone eats is the appropriate size and consistency. For example, many seniors have difficulty chewing and may have fake teeth. If they fail to chew food properly, large pieces become a choking hazard. Instead, serve foods that already come in small portions, are soft, or are liquids. Age-related changes to eating and swallowing impact frailty and increase the risk of choking in older adults.
Acute vs. Chronic Respiratory System Conditions
There are two types of respiratory system conditions: chronic conditions and acute conditions. Chronic conditions, like asthma, develop slowly and are less likely to be cured. Instead, many people treat the condition and the symptoms to live with the disease. Acute conditions develop quickly and are generally severe. Most acute conditions require immediate medical attention and can be fatal.
Foreign body aspiration is an acute respiratory condition where a small object gets stuck in a person’s airway. Oftentimes, it is food related. While not all cases of foreign body aspiration are immediately fatal, they are all dangerous for the patients. The obstruction can cause breathing issues and can shift to block the airway entirely. Treat every case of foreign body aspiration as a medical emergency and seek help right away to prevent serious life-threatening complications
Steps to Keep Seniors Safe
Seniors are in the high-risk group for respiratory system conditions. To protect seniors, focus on reducing as many causes of respiratory conditions as possible. Some things to help reduce choking hazards include lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking or focusing on basic life skills like eating and swallowing. Also, seek regular medical evaluations and treatment when conditions are discovered. Seniors should see a doctor for an evaluation at least twice per year, or more often if symptoms of a condition begin to emerge. Early intervention is the key to avoiding serious long-term outcomes.
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Prevention of Choking
Choking is a risk for anyone at any age. It is a blockage of the airways that can prevent breathing. While there are ways of addressing choking and swallowing problems, the best method of treatment is the prevention of choking. This can be done by following basic guidelines for specific age groups and being aware of how to respond in specific situations.
Know Choking Signs
To react to a choking incident quickly and effectively, it is important to know the signs of choking. Several of the signs to look for are:
- Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing or taking short, shallow breaths can be a sign that someone’s airway is being obstructed. It can also be a sign of a deeper respiratory problem and requires immediate medical attention.
- Wheezing: Wheezing is a problem where a person struggles to breathe. The breaths that do come through sound forced and make a tight wheezing sound as if the person has to focus on forcing the air through their windpipe.
- Coughing: Coughing is a physical response to airway obstruction in which the throat contracts quickly and forcefully to try to force the obstruction out. Consistent coughing is a sign that the obstruction is blocking the airway and needs to be removed immediately.
- Panic without breathing: When people start to choke, they may not make a sound. However, they often have a panicked look on their face. If a person looks panicked but cannot speak, that person might be choking.
- Dizziness: Choking reduces or stops airflow. Being deprived of air leads to dizziness and can eventually lead to unconsciousness.
- Turning blue: Another side effect of being deprived of air is turning blue. Since there is not enough air circulating in the blood, it reverts back to its normal blue, unoxygenated color. You can see this on the skin, usually in the hands and face.
There are many other signs of choking not covered by this list. If you think that someone is choking, call for emergency medical assistance as soon as possible. If you are trained in emergency medical techniques, then call for help and begin applying those techniques until help arrives.
Choking hazards are common since nearly anything small enough to each can be a hazard. Most choking incidents happen with food that is too hard to chew properly or swallowed in pieces that are too big. Grapes and hot dogs are common choking hazards. Grapes are soft and can easily get stuck in your windpipe. Hot dogs are thin enough to travel into the windpipe but not small enough to pass through. Unless you chew them thoroughly, hot dog pieces often get stuck on the way down.
Ways to Prevent Choking
The simplest way to prevent choking is to ensure that nothing larger than a dime passes through the windpipe. For seniors, this can mean limiting eating to soft foods that are easy to chew. By limiting the choking risks that seniors have access to, you can reduce the chances of choking or prevent choking entirely.
Another way to prevent fatal choking incidents is to learn CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver. Having the ability to resolve choking problems without the need for additional medical aid can be life-saving. You will be able to help seniors immediately, reducing the chances of death or serious side effects.
For seniors, there are many things that create choking risks. According to the journal Geriatrics, caregivers must address all of the risks that they can find simultaneously to offer seniors a greater level of protection. Some of these choking risks include:
- Small objects
- Asthma attacks
- Dehydration (lack of saliva)
- Swallowing problems associated with dysphagia
Consult with medical professionals to find the best ways to address these risks, and to ensure that seniors get the help that they need to prevent choking. They can also help you design a safe eating environment where seniors experience a lower choking risk.
Safe Eating Environments
Nursing homes can protect seniors from choking by creating safe eating environments that focus on safe swallowing strategies. These include removing foods that can be serious choking hazards and pre-cutting food into bite-sized pieces. Having support nearby that is properly trained in life-saving procedures is also a good idea. Plus, creating a space where seniors can focus on eating with minimal distractions or difficulties can help.
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Signs of Choking
Seniors in nursing homes can suffer from medical conditions that may leave them susceptible to dangerous and potentially fatal choking incidents. Suffering from difficulties with swallowing and breathing, for example, can lead to choking during mealtimes. Choking presents a serious issue, and when caregivers fail to address it promptly, it can lead to brain injuries and sometimes death. Signs of choking which should be acted on immediately include:
- Gagging and coughing
- Clutching the throat
- Hand signals and panic
- Turning blue
Staff in the nursing home needs to have the training and qualification necessary to quickly identify and deal with any choking incidents. If the choking incident remains mild, with the airway only partially blocked, simply encouraging a resident to cough and delivering some light blows to the back can help to clear the blockage.
The Heimlich Maneuver
If the choking incident gets severe, back blows together with abdominal thrusts—also known as the Heimlich maneuver— can help to clear a blockage. If the person has lost consciousness and is no longer breathing, you should seek medical help immediately.
The Heimlich maneuver itself can cause injuries to an elderly person. A thorough medical examination should take place after every serious choking incident to make sure that the nursing home resident does not suffer any other injuries.
Difficulty Swallowing in Seniors
Difficulty swallowing is another term for dysphagia, and dysphagia in the elderly frequently occurs. Stroke and dementia, as well as many other age-related diseases, contribute to dysphagia in seniors.
Some other conditions that can contribute to difficulty swallowing in the elderly can include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Cerebral palsy
- Respiratory problems
- Age-related changes
- Radiation therapy
- Intubation and tracheostomy
Other conditions can contribute to, or worsen, dysphagia. As dysphagia affects nursing home residents in the United States, nursing home staff should know how to identify the condition. Dysphagia itself can cause other health problems for nursing home residents, such as malnutrition and pneumonia.
Does your loved one suffer from dysphagia or signs of choking? Some of the symptoms of dysphagia include coughing when swallowing, a hoarse voice, having pain when swallowing, and regurgitating food, among others. If your relative in the nursing home suffers from difficulty swallowing, they may require extra assistance and closer supervision by staff when eating and drinking.
Managing Dysphagia in Seniors
The goal of managing any difficulty with swallowing in the elderly includes avoiding further deterioration in health and ensuring that the resident receives adequate nutrition and hydration amounts as needed.
Nursing home staff can help by cutting foods into smaller pieces and encouraging a resident to eat slowly and deliberately. These simple adjustments can go a long way to helping a senior who has any problems with swallowing. Rather than eating three big meals a day, staff can experiment with offering several smaller meals to the affected senior at various times throughout the day.
Treatment and management of dysphagia in the nursing home can also include swallowing exercises and learning how to position the body correctly to make eating and drinking easier for a resident. If swallowing proves difficult and adequate nourishment and hydration suffer as a result, nursing home staff must act quickly and may have to resort to either a liquid diet or a feeding tube.
Negligence on Behalf of the Nursing Home
Most of the efforts to control dysphagia and signs of choking in nursing homes have one thing in common: they require the staff to acknowledge the issues and accommodate the residents accordingly. If your loved one struggles to swallow and is not getting the nutrition they require, or if they had choking incidents or medical problems from dysphagia, this may signal negligence on the part of the staff in the nursing home.
You have the right to consult a nursing home lawyer for advice in this situation. If your loved one has suffered unnecessarily, you may wish to act and hold the nursing home responsible.
Choking Deaths in Nursing Homes
Nursing homes bear responsibility for identifying residents in need of extra help while eating and residents who suffer from swallowing difficulties or signs of choking. Not having enough staff to help residents or failing to assess a choking risk in a resident can qualify as negligence.
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Are Choking Accidents a Sign of Nursing Home Neglect?
While choking is not always a sign of nursing home abuse, it is a possibility that the nursing home staff is engaging in neglectful behavior and not ensuring safety in the nursing home, such as not properly monitoring residents, especially those vulnerable to choking accidents.
If your family member is experiencing nursing home neglect injuries, there are opportunities available for compensation if carelessness or indifference caused his or her choking accident.
However, some limitations exist on your ability to file a claim. Speak with a nursing home neglect lawyer to find out more information about chocking accidents at nursing homes.
When Choking Accidents Are a Sign of Nursing Home Neglect
Whether or not choking is caused by neglect depends upon if the nursing home acted with carelessness or indifference. Choking accidents are a sign of neglect if your family member has a medical condition or other issues that prevent that from swallowing correctly.
Other instances may qualify a claim for nursing home neglect, including:
- Meal plans that do not account for allergies
- Not assisting with portioning and sizes
- Failing to help residents who have mobility issues
- Not providing water with meals
- Not noticing that a choking accident is occurring
Mainly, a choking accident maybe elder abuse or nursing home neglect if the facility should have reasonably known that a hazard existed and chose not to ensure your loved one’s safety.
It is equally important to recognize that choking is not always a sign of nursing home neglect. Sometimes an accident is simply that, which no one could reasonably prevent.
The primary theme in establishing nursing home neglect, within the context of choking accidents, is that staff members failed to meet their general duty of care toward the resident.
What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Neglect Caused a Choking Accident
The first thing you must do after uncovering a nursing home neglect injury is to seek immediate medical attention for your loved one. Send him or her to another provider if you suspect the in-house team at the nursing home is incapable of providing comprehensive care and treatment options. The doctor treating your family member can document the injuries and offer insight into possible causes.
The second aspect of handling a negligence claim begins by documenting instances of neglect, including issues that could have led to a choking accident. Take photos, start a journal of events, and gather the names and contact information of the people involved with feeding and providing first aid. You will need to recall these details as you pursue compensation for your loved one’s injuries or death. This is an essential part of the process in determining whether a choking accident is a sign of nursing home neglect.
In cases of wrongful death, the autopsy report can confirm the cause of death. The coroner can provide you with the documentation to assert that choking played a role and what caused it to occur. He or she will also make notes of any unusual surrounding factors that triggered your family member’s death.
Financial Compensation Is Available for Nursing Home Neglect
While some family members believe it is callous to go after money after a personal injury or wrongful death accident, one can argue that it is more disparaging to allow responsible parties to escape without consequences and harm other residents.
Not only do financial awards serve you and your family, but they also help to strengthen and improve public policy.
The amount of compensation you can anticipate receiving from a nursing home negligence case depends upon its circumstances as well as your state’s laws. In general, you can file a claim for medical expenses, mental anguish, and wrongful death from a settlement or civil court award.
Time Limits Apply to File a Nursing Home Neglect Claim
Nursing home neglect is an actionable claim under personal injury, medical malpractice, or wrongful death. Every U.S. state enacts a statute of limitations that defines the deadlines by which you have to file a claim.
Failing to Help Patients with Mobility Issues Who Are Choking
The families of elderly seniors often have to make the difficult decision to place their loved one
in a nursing home. In some cases, this is simply because they remain unable to provide the care, supervision, and medication attention they need on a daily basis to ensure their safety.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nursing homes have a duty to ensure that their residents always receive proper care and appropriate supervision. Some elderly residents of nursing homes struggle with dysphagia, or an issue with swallowing due to neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It can also occur due to muscle weakening which can happen as the body ages.
Elderly residents should always receive a plan of care when they enter a nursing home that is specifically tailored directly to meet their needs. If a senior has any of the challenges with swallowing listed above, this should be clear in their plan of care. If a nursing home resident suffers from dysphagia and mobility issues, they may not have the ability to alert someone if they begin to choke on food or medicine.
These residents should receive constant monitoring when they eat or take their prescriptions. If your elderly loved one suffered from mobility issues that resulted in injuries from choking, you may have the right to pursue legal action on their behalf.
Mobility Issues in Nursing Homes
BMC Nursing research published that clearly indicates that mobility is a significant issue with the population of elderly residents in nursing homes. When residents remain unable to freely move about on their own, they may need assistance with daily tasks such as going to the bathroom, repositioning to avoid bedsores, or help with personal hygiene.
Another area that many elderly residents must receive help with is eating, drinking and taking medication. Some elderly residents are not able to go to the cafeteria, so their food and medications must directly come to their rooms. If a nursing home staff member leaves the food in a room with a resident, and the resident remains unsupervised, they may not have the ability to contact a nursing home employee if they begin to choke.
Failing to help patients with mobility issues who are choking is a completely preventable occurrence. Nursing home staff members must always provide for the safety and care of all of their residents. Their duties include making sure that any residents that lack mobility have an easy way to communicate to the nursing home staff if they begin choking on their food or medication.
Dysphagia in Nursing Homes
Some elderly residents in nursing homes suffer from both mobility issues as well as dysphagia, which occurs when a person has difficulty swallowing. Unfortunately, this condition occurs in elderly populations. As the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders research shows, it takes over 50 pairs of nerves and muscles to swallow properly, which can deteriorate and weaken over time.
Additionally, several neurological and neurodegenerative diseases, which are also prevalent in the elderly population, can make swallowing much more difficult, according to Clinical Interventions in Aging. If an elderly resident of a nursing home has either mobility issues, dysphagia, or both, these medical conditions should remain clearly notated in their plan of care. In these cases, the nursing home staff should always ensure that the resident has additional supervision while eating or taking medications to prevent choking, serious injuries, or even death.
Nursing Home Neglect
Neglect of elderly residents in nursing homes occurs with great frequency, and nursing home negligence results in the catastrophic injuries and deaths of many seniors throughout the United States. Failing to monitor and supervise residents adequately is a sign of nursing home neglect, and you have the right to receive justice on behalf of your elderly loved one.
Wrongful Death Due to Choking
Unfortunately, when a nursing home staff employee fails to help patients with mobility issues who are choking, the result can be severe injuries or death. Nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure that all of their residents receive proper medication, nutrition, and supervision while they consume these important items for their health.
If a senior resident with mobility issues chokes, and remains unable to receive assistance, they may suffer from lack of oxygen to their body and brain or even death. If you feel your elderly loved one in a nursing home died due to choking complications as a result of their mobility issues, you may have the right to pursue justice and compensation on their behalf.
Not Assisting with Portioning and Sizes
Every nursing home has the responsibility to ensure that its residents receive proper nutrition. In some cases, this means that a nursing home employee will have to take the time to actually portion out and give correct sizes of nutrition to residents who remain reluctant to obtain this nutrition independently.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) established nutritional guidelines that nursing homes must follow for their elderly residents. Following these nutritional guidelines ensures a higher quality of life, energy, ability to better withstand any injuries or medical complications, and the prevention of weight loss and malnutrition.
Unfortunately, some nursing home employees do not take the time and do not assist with portioning and sizes regarding the nutrition of their residents, leaving seniors malnourished and unhealthy.
Federal and State Laws Regarding Nutrition in Nursing Homes
Federal and state law both have specific guidelines that nursing homes must follow as they provide nutrition to their elderly residents. In fact, the University of Minnesota, School for Public Health compiled a detailed listing of the requirements and laws of every state in the United States with respect to nutrition and dietary services provided by nursing homes.
Every resident must receive their own specific nutritional requirements according to their own personal care plan that also adheres to the recommended daily allowances for their specific health conditions. Nursing homes have the discretion to substitute similar types of food; however, the nursing home resident must still receive the daily dietary requirements established under both federal and state law.
Additionally, under the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, every nursing home resident should receive a re-evaluation of their nutritional needs every three months, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Malnutrition in Nursing Homes
Elderly residents of nursing homes already have muscle weakness and medical conditions that cause them to lose their strength simply due to the aging process. Proper nutrition in the correct quantities helps seniors maintain the strength that they have to help their overall health. The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine
reports that more than half of all nursing home residents suffer from malnutrition.
Malnutrition occurs when an elderly resident does not receive the correct portion and sizes of the food required by dietary guidelines and accordion to their own specific medical needs. If a nursing home staff member does not assist with portioning and sizes for an elderly resident, they may not take the initiative to get that food independently or receive the proper nutrition necessary for their health and well-being.
Nursing home employees should not only assist with portioning and sizes for each resident. They should also take the time to watch residents and ensure that residents consume their food. In some cases, elderly residents may suffer from dysphagia (swallowing issues), and they require assistance to consume their nutrition.
In other cases, elderly residents simply have no appetite, and therefore must receive assistance and persuasion to consume the nutrition they need to prevent malnourishment. If an elderly resident of a nursing home develops any type of malnourishment, or medical conditions that relate to malnourishment, the nursing home staff’s negligence may have played a role.
Symptoms of Malnutrition
Mayo Clinic lists some symptoms and preventatives for malnutrition in the elderly. If you have a suspicion that your elderly loved one may not receive assistance with portioning and sizes resulting in their malnutrition, seek help immediately.
The following are some symptoms of malnutrition in the elderly:
- Newly developed case of low blood pressure
- A decrease in urination (which may also signal dehydration as well as malnutrition)
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Eyes that appear sunken in
- Rapid weight loss with no other explanation such as new medication or recent medical condition
- The development of depression, irritability or anxiety
- The development of lethargy unrelated to new medications or recent medical conditions
- Sudden tooth decay
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Bloating in the abdomen
Some of these symptoms are similar to those that any person would experience if they suffered from malnutrition; however, this list is not extensive or exhaustive.
If you feel that your elderly loved one suffered from malnutrition as a result of the nursing home staff failing to monitor them while they ate, or failing to assist them with proper portioning and sizes, you may have the right to pursue justice on their behalf.
Always visit with the management of the nursing home facility if you suspect that your elderly loved one suffers from malnutrition, and if the case is severe, consider removing them from the nursing home facility completely.
Not Noticing a Choking Accident Is Occurring
If your loved one suffers due to nursing home staff not noticing a choking accident is occurring, you might be wondering what they were doing besides monitoring your loved one. Geriatrics (Basel) reported that choking on food accounts for the second-highest cause of preventable death in aged care, which means that choking accidents occur frequently for nursing home residents.
It does not matter whether nursing home abuse or neglect is intentional. If your loved one in a nursing home recently suffered injuries or death after a choking accident, it could be helpful for you to understand the risks and circumstances that led to choking.
Choking Accidents in Nursing Homes
It is not up to a nursing home resident’s family to let nursing home staff know that their loved one is at a higher risk for choking. Some older adults are at higher risk for choking due to their health complications, which their medical records should note.
According to Geriatrics (Basel), elderly adults live at a higher risk of choking on food than children aged 1–4 years of age. Some nursing home residents need as much care as possible for daily activities like eating and drinking, so being aware of the risk of choking is very important.
Risks of Choking for People 65 and Older
The prevalence of choking accidents for people 65 and older is not only due to internal factors like natural aging, but additional external factors can pose an increased choking threat. Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, can present itself naturally with age, and especially in chronic conditions like Parkinson’s disease, or in people with a history of stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Here are some of the internal and external risks for choking in people over 65:
- Loss of attention span
- Increased frailty and reduced strength with aging
- Poor posture while eating
- Poor mobility
- Poorly fitted dentures
- Sedative-like medications that alter perception while eating
- Using a feeding tube to eat
- Lack of monitoring while eating
Of course, choking accidents are not one-size-fits-all, so there are many different factors that can contribute to a loved one choking in a nursing home. Every person ages in an individual way, so the risk factors from choking will be unique for everyone. This is something that attentive nursing staff should be trained to handle.
The Difficulty of Preventing Choking
Sometimes choking can be difficult to prevent, especially if the nursing home staff is overwhelmed or wants to give your loved one as much autonomy and independence as possible. Realistically, nursing home residents require a re-evaluation of their needs, especially when it comes to eating and drinking, so choking is usually always easily avoided by some level of oversight during mealtime.
It is important to remember that nursing home neglect classifies as a violation of your loved one’s rights, even when it is unintentional. If your loved one suffers at the hands of a nursing home caretaker, you may need to step in and defend their rights.
Nursing Home Resident Bill of Rights
In a nursing home, your loved one has rights to all of the care and services needed to thrive as a resident, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Not noticing a choking accident is occurring is a major oversight on the part of the nursing home staff, which has an obligation to provide care for your loved one’s medical needs, including nursing needs and psychosocial needs.
Anything less than meeting those basic requirements for care warrants further investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice also details the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, which further protects the rights of nursing home residents.
If your loved one suffers from a choking accident, it is not important whether they showed signs of being at increased risk for choking. It is the legal obligation of the nursing home staff to act in good faith towards your loved one and to understand that most residents in their care will be at a naturally increased risk for choking. You do not need to wait until your loved one faces more severe consequences from a choking accident to take legal action against negligent nursing home staff.
Not Providing Water with Meals
Throughout our lives, water aids in the functioning of most of our natural processes. Drinking water is not always a matter of thirst, but it always contributes to the healthy functioning of our bodies. As we age, differences in hydration can have an even bigger impact on our well-being.
Not everyone needs the same amount of water, but nursing home staff should actively providing water for your loved one as much as possible. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nursing homes must abide by medical care plans, which address the need for water at various times throughout the day. If you recently noticed that nursing home staff is not providing water with meals for your loved one, it could be a sign of abuse or neglect to an even further extent.
Going Without Water is Risky for Older Adults
Even when your loved one does not report thirst, it is important for nursing home staff to keep in mind the hydration needs of all nursing home residents. Good hydration plays a key role in a healthy lifestyle, according to Mayo Clinic.
According to the same reports, here are some of the ways water contributes to our body’s normal functions:
- Regulates body temperatures: Drinking water helps our bodies adjust to climate conditions, whether too hot or too cold.
- Provides cell tissue moisture: Hydration is key for prime functioning in the eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Heals internal organs: Drinking water can protect our organs and body tissue from unnecessary damage.
- Transfers oxygen: Our cells need water to transfer nutrients like oxygen to other parts of the body
- Maintains joint health: Staying hydrated helps joint health by keeping them lubricated, which is especially important for aging bodies.
- Reduces infection: Water is processed through the kidneys and liver, flushing out waste to keep harmful elements out of our system.
Mayo Clinic recommends 11.5 cups of water per day for the average woman, and 15.5 cups per day for the average man, although individual needs may vary. When nursing home staff is not providing water with meals for your loved one, it could negatively impact any of the processes listed above and more.
Conditions Caused by a Lack of Water
Not drinking water can cause a lot more than just dehydration, and the consequences of it can be especially bad for nursing home residents. Here are some of the conditions and symptoms that not drinking water can have, according to the Nutrition and Healthy Aging:
- Heart Failure
- Kidney Failure
- Liver Failure
- Protein Deficiency
- Overuse of IVs and transfusions
- Excessive perspiration
This is not an exhaustive list of all the conditions a dehydrated person might suffer from. However, if your loved one experiences any of these symptoms in a nursing home, there is a chance that care conditions are severe enough to warrant further investigation. This is where working with a nursing home lawyer can be most helpful for you.
Legal Obligations for Nursing Home Staff
Upon arrival at a nursing home, all residents are entitled to create and collaborate on a care plan with nursing home staff and medical professionals. The goal of transitioning to life in a nursing home is helping your loved one maintain as much dignity and autonomy as possible, while providing for their medical needs, nursing needs, and psychosocial needs.
It always helps your case to be proactive in the care of your loved one, including the planning process. If your loved one is able to, they may also have a part in determining care needs. In this care contract, you can specify hydration needs, but ultimately you can expect that hydration and nutrition needs are considered essential physical care for your loved one.
Considerations for Aging Adults
When nursing home staff receives proper training, they should be aware of the potential frailty of older people in nursing homes. These residents can usually no longer fully provide for themselves. A lawyer can help you investigate the training processes and knowledge of a nursing home staff. They can attempt to pinpoint the source of your loved one’s health problems.
Older people with health conditions like Parkinson’s disease or a history of stroke are at higher risk of dysphagia. Dysphagia refers to a chronic difficulty swallowing, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Dysphagia is a normal side effect of aging but does not occur the same way in everyone.
Your loved one’s care plan might include special monitoring for progressive conditions like dementia, which increases the risk of dysphagia and the importance of staying hydrated to keep the body’s processes working.
Patient Suffers From a Food Allergy
A food allergy is a reaction of the immune system to a particular food that can result in several symptoms, such as digestive problems or swollen airways. If the allergy is severe, a reaction can be life-threatening for the victim.
According to Aging and Disease, food allergies can occur in all ages but may remain underdiagnosed in the elderly. Age-related changes have negative impacts on the immune system, which leaves elderly patients at a higher risk for these types of allergies. The journal further states that the most frequent foods leading to allergic responses in the elderly are fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and shellfish.
If a nursing home patient suffers from a food allergy, the staff has the responsibility to adhere to the dietary needs of the resident in all circumstances. Exposing an elderly nursing home resident to a food allergen can have disastrous and potentially fatal consequences and must be avoided at all costs.
Signs and Symptoms of a Food Allergy
Seeing your loved one suffer an allergic food reaction can be frightening. According to Mayo Clinic, some of the signs and symptoms of a food allergy can include:
- Tingling or itching inside of the mouth.
- Swelling of the throat, lips, or tongue.
- Trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
There can be other symptoms of food allergy, and they can vary from person to person.
It can be particularly worrisome when a food allergy triggers anaphylaxis, a severe reaction of the body to the allergen that can cause death if left untreated. If you notice any of the following signs on your loved one, find medical help immediately:
- Constriction of airways and trouble breathing
- A rapid pulse
While it is possible to treat an acute episode of allergy with medication, there is no treatment that can prevent a food allergy other than avoiding the allergen. If your loved one in the nursing home suffers from a food allergy, the staff has the responsibility to keep them safe at all times.
If your loved one suffered a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis or a choking incident causing health damage and incurring medical or hospitalization bills, you could speak to a nursing home lawyer to find out whether you have a case against a nursing home.
Choking Accidents in Nursing Homes
According to Clinical and Translational Allergy, allergies sometimes make their first appearance later in life, afflicting some elderly patients for the first time. Food is usually responsible for choking in the elderly, and there can be a number of causes contributing to choking incidents, such as ill-fitting dentures or trouble swallowing.
If a nursing home patient suffers from a food allergy, they can be at a higher risk of choking accidents with serious and life-threatening consequences. Choking can cause death and long-term damage in the elderly. Aspiration pneumonia, for example, can be a result of choking and inhaling food particles.
Choking on food can also be the sign of an undetected food allergy. A food allergy can constrict airways and make swallowing difficult for an elderly nursing home resident.
Avoiding Food Allergies and Choking in Nursing Homes
A nursing home is responsible for ensuring that the individual dietary needs of all residents are met at all times. The nursing home has the responsibility to ensure that no individual is offered food that they are allergic to. If a nursing home patient suffers from a food allergy, the staff should make sure that the resident does not come into contact with the allergen in order to minimize any health risks, such as anaphylaxis and choking. Not doing so can constitute nursing home neglect, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The consequences of your loved one being given food that they are allergic to can be deadly as well as costly. Choking and anaphylaxis can cause long-lasting damage that requires medical treatments indefinitely, according to Geriatrics (Basel). If the staff served your loved one any food allergens in their nursing home, leading to health damage and medical bills, you could receive compensation.
You may have the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit and obtain compensation for any medical bills, transportation cost, and for your loved ones’ pain and suffering, among other damages. If your loved one passed away due to being served food that they were allergic to, you could file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Talk to Our Skilled Illinois Nursing Home Neglect Lawyers
Was your loved one hurt in a choking incident caused by nursing home abuse or neglect? It may have stemmed from a lack of supervision, an improper response to the incident, or incorrect treatment after the fact. At Pintas & Mullins, our Chicago nursing home abuse attorneys will hold individuals responsible for the injury from a choking incident, and will fight for full and fair compensation. We represent clients nationwide, and will even come to you!
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