Bedsores — sometimes called pressure ulcers or decubitus ulcers — are the result of long-term pressure on one area of skin. Bedsores are painful, difficult to heal, and may lead to serious skin or bone infections. Up to one in 10 seniors with limited mobility develops bedsores, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Learn why bedsores in elderly adults are common, how to recognize symptoms, and ways to prevent bedsores at home.
The human body is normally in constant movement, even while we sleep. We constantly shift positions, unconsciously readjusting ourselves while watching TV, working at a desk, and even lying in bed.
When surgery, injury to the spinal cord, arthritis, or illness reduces mobility in seniors, those movements may stop. Without regular readjustment, the pressure of an immobilized body can reduce blood flow and damage skin.
Bedsores often form in areas with little padding from muscle and fat, near joints or prominent bones. The tailbone (coccyx), shoulder blades, hips, heels and elbows are common sites for bedsores.
Bedsores generally form in seniors who need help moving or spend most of the day sitting or lying down. Three main factors contribute to elderly bedsores:
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Bedsores range from skin irritation to open wounds prone to infection. Early-stage pressure ulcers are more treatable; caregivers should check for bedsore symptoms often. The four stages of bedsores are:
If caregivers don’t reposition an immobile or bedridden person correctly and frequently, the likelihood of decubitus ulcers increases. Similarly, poor hygiene, nutrition, and skin care can lead to bedsores.
These five steps can help prevent bedsores in elderly relatives at home:
Bedsore treatment varies by stage and severity. Stage 1 bedsores can often be resolved at home, while later-stage pressure ulcers may need medical intervention. Regular doctor’s office or home care appointments will be needed to monitor the bedsore closely. Severe pressure ulcers may result in surgery or a hospital stay.
Stage 1: Bedsore treatment at home may work for stage 1 pressure ulcer symptoms. If you notice mild heat and discoloration, adjust positioning, clean skin with mild soap and water, pat dry thoroughly, and apply a moisture-barrier lotion. If bedsore stage 1 symptoms don’t improve within 48 hours, contact your loved one’s doctor.
Stage 2: Stage 2 pressure ulcers may be treatable by a doctor or prescribed at-home regimen of thorough cleaning, medicated gauze or bandages, and antibiotics.
Stage 3+: Stage 3 or 4 bedsore symptoms may need specialized treatment or surgery from a wound care team. Once damage occurs beneath the skin’s surface, bedsore treatment may include:
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Up to 28% of hospitalized seniors or long-term care residents in nursing homes experience bedsores, according to the CDC. Frail people may live in a nursing home because bedsores and other injuries are so hard to prevent at home. Or they may be transferred from the hospital to a long-term care facility or nursing home after an accident. Nursing home bedsores are made more likely by conditions like advanced dementia, severe diabetes, and paralysis.
This Medicare tool tracks the percentage of residents with bedsores at nursing homes across the country and how each location compares to the national average.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Bedsores.”
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “How to Treat Bedsores at Home.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Pressure Ulcers Among Nursing Home Residents.”
Harvard Health Publishing. “Bedsores.”
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