Many nursing home residents have difficulty swallowing food. Nursing home facilities thus need to carefully supervise and monitor such residents' food intake. Choking dangers, which can cause serious injuries and even death, are multiplied when the nursing home staff does not take proper care of the resident.
Nursing home residents choke when food or medication enter their windpipe rather than their esophagus. The person's air supply is then restricted or completely eliminated. Permanent brain damage or death can result from extended oxygen deprivation. It's thus very important that the nursing home facility have staff who are properly trained on how to avoid choking, recognize choking, and help a choking resident.
Disabled and elderly patients have difficulty swallowing food or medication for various reasons. The more common medical conditions that impact swallowing ability include:
- Aging – Fifty pairs of muscles and nerves are utilized in swallowing, so deterioration of the throat muscles can make it difficult for older patients to swallow.
- Cancer – Some forms of cancer can effect a person’s ability to swallow, as can radiation treatment for cancer.
- Neurological disorders – Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis are all neurological disorders that may effect the ability to swallow.
- Alzheimer’s disease – In the final stages of Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer’s patients may have difficulty swallowing and eating.
- Neurological damage – Severe trauma, such as brain or spinal injuries or a stroke, may reduce a person's ability to swallow.
At significant risk of choking or oxygen deprivation are patients who require the use of a breathing machine or ventilator to breathe. The lives and safety of such patients is dependent on that equipment remaining fully operational and functional without interruption. The nursing facility staff caring for such patients have to remain constantly vigilant to ensure that the breathing devices are safe and working properly
Patients who have difficulty swallowing are commonly examined by a physician to determine the extent of the issue. The physician will often then make dietary recommendations for the patient, including what the patient should eat and in what forms. Those recommendation thus need to become part of the nursing home resident's chart so that all staff charged with caring for the resident are aware of the physician's dietary recommendations. The staff must then strictly adhere to those recommendations to ensure that the patient does not receive food that the physician has advised against, or that the physician has instructed should be received in only a certain manner to lessen the risk of choking.
Choking incidents can happen for a variety of reasons. Staff might not properly supervise the nursing home resident. The facility may have insufficient staff to properly care for an supervise the resident. The facility may not have properly trained its staff. Or the staff may not follow medical orders regarding the resident's diet or supervisory needs.
If this happens to your family, don't let the nursing facility get by with excuses. Do something about it by contacting a Des Moines nursing home injury lawyer. The nursing facility is being paid for accepting your family member as a resident and all of the responsibility that comes with that. That responsibility includes ensuring that the nursing facility's staffing levels are sufficient to allow staff members adequate time to safely work with the residents at all hours of the day. It also includes providing proper training and equipment for all staff members.