Commonly known as bedsores, pressure ulcers develop when an area of the body experiences a consistent, sustained amount of applied contact over time. The amount of force can cause the skin to degrade and increases risk of infection.
Although pressure ulcers can affect anyone, seniors are more susceptible due to changes in skin composition, using a wheelchair or spending the majority of the day in bed or chair without shifting positions. Pressure ulcers are more likely to develop on the heels, hips, ankles, shoulder blades, spine and tailbone.
Based on someone’s condition and skin quality, pressure ulcers can take mere hours to develop. While some can be healed with the right treatment, other bedsores can become chronic. When caring for an older loved one, here’s what you should know to manage potential pressure ulcers.
How Pressure Ulcers Occur
Bedsores develop when blood flow is limited or restricted, cutting off oxygen and other nutrients the skin and tissues need. This can occur due to:
- Constant pressure to one area, particularly those with less fat and muscle.
- Friction from a material repeatedly rubbing against the skin. Friction-related pressure ulcers have a higher incidence if the skin is routinely damp or moist.
- Pulling or shearing the skin, which can occur when parts of the body move in one direction, but the skin stays in the same place.
Among the elderly, certain individuals have elevated risks for developing pressure ulcers, including those who:
- Are immobile, which prevents them from changing positions in a bed or chair.
- Use a mobility device, like a wheelchair.
- Live with incontinence, in which the skin is regularly exposed to bodily fluids.
- Have neurological issues that decrease sensation in the skin, including dulling pain.
- Lack proper nutrition and hydration, including not enough protein, vitamins and minerals.
- Live with a medical condition that reduces blood flow, including vascular diseases.
Early signs of bedsores include:
- Changes in skin color or texture
- Swelling or draining of a pus-like substance
- Sections of the skin that feel cold or warm to the touch
Bedsores can cause varying degrees of skin damage. You may spot patches of red skin or the condition extends into the muscle. If not addressed, the injury can develop into:
- Bone or joint infection
Strategies for Preventing Pressure Ulcers
Prevention requires an appropriate cleansing and skincare strategy, reducing the amount of pressure applied to one area and considering health-related factors.
If your loved one spends most of the day in a bed or chair, you’ll want to reposition or shift their weight at least once an hour:
- Consider a wheelchair or seat with tilting capabilities to help with sitting up
- Add a cushion or mattress to the seat in order to lessen pressure
- In terms of bed elevation, the head should not be significantly higher than the body
- Consider using heel protectors to lessen pressure on sensitive areas
The key to reducing potential pressure ulcers is keeping the skin clean and dry:
- Routinely wash the skin with a gentle cleanser.
- Add a cream designed to protect the skin’s moisture barrier.
- Consider fabrics and bedding used, as certain materials can irritate against the skin.
- Inspect the skin at least once a day when showering or going through perineal care.
Addressing Health Issues
Diet and comorbid health conditions can affect the amount of oxygen and nutrients going to the skin and tissue. Considering these factors:
- Your loved one should maintain a healthy, balanced diet in line with their care plan.
- Continue following treatment plans for any cardiovascular conditions or chronic issues that impact the body’s circulation.
West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center follows specific protocols to help prevent pressure ulcers. To learn more about our long-term care services, contact us today.
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