Seniors Face Heightened Risks of Choking
Contrary to popular belief, the rate of death by choking is higher among the elderly than in any other age group, even children and infants. For a variety of reasons, seniors are at a much higher risk of a choking incident that results in long-term injury or fatality. That means nursing homes have a clear responsibility to protect their elderly residents from choking, particularly if they are also disabled or have severe medical conditions.
But how exactly can nursing home staff prevent choking injuries in the elderly? At Brown & Barron, LLC, our nursing home neglect attorneys have witnessed many cases where staff allowed serious choking injuries to happen because of neglect. By following the correct protocol instead—and taking their residents’ needs into meaningful consideration—nursing homes may be able to prevent many more choking incidents and reduce the harm done to victims.
Defining the Duty of Care in Nursing Homes
Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and residential care facilities all have a binding legal obligation to provide a certain level of care to their residents, called the “duty of care.” This duty is established as soon as the facility takes on a new resident and agrees in writing that they will obey all applicable laws, codes, and requirements to cover their basic needs.
Although the levels of qualified medical staff vary between a 24-hour skilled nursing facility and a residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE), there is no excuse for failing to provide adequate supervision during mealtimes or meet the basic medical recommendations for a disabled resident.
Here are a few key examples of how nursing homes can fail to meet the duty of care and cause choking injuries:
- Failing to monitor an at-risk resident during mealtimes
- Not providing adequate hydration to residents
- Lack of urgency when contacting medical emergency services after a choking incident
- Failing to employ enough qualified medical personnel who could intervene during a major choking incident
- Delays in care due to lack of supervision
- Poor care plans that inadequately address choking risks
- Failure to follow care plans provided for at-risk senior residents
Failure to Create or Follow Nursing Home Care Plans
One of the most crucial elements of adequate care for nursing home residents is developing a care plan. A care plan outlines each patient’s protocols, precautions, and preferences. It’s designed to meet the elderly resident’s unique health needs and ensure their physical well-being and comfort.
Dietary needs are a significant component of senior health care. Therefore, care plans should list nutritional requirements and desires as many older people have health conditions that require special diets or food preparation methods.
Nursing Homes Often Fail to Meet Dietary Needs
Seniors with dysphagia should have specific notes in their care plan. However, some nursing homes create inadequate care plans, failing to mention eating assistance or diet specifications for the elderly who have difficulty swallowing.
Other times, the family may have discussed with the nursing home administration the need to create a detailed care plan for their elderly loved one, only to discover the nursing home staff disregards it. Instead, the personnel shrugs off dietary instructions because they are either unaware of the specifications or can’t be bothered with them.
The nursing home’s failure to meet your elderly or disabled loved one’s dietary needs constitutes negligence. If this failure to fulfill its duties led to a choking injury or death, a Baltimore nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer can assist you in filing a claim or lawsuit.
Preventing Choking Incidents in the Elderly
When nursing homes do meet the duty of care, they have a real chance to lower the incidence of choking injuries and deaths among seniors. In most cases, the best way to lower risks overall is through adequate staffing and supervision. With the correct number of medical experts on hand to supervise during mealtimes, choking incidents may be prevented – and even if choking does occur, it may not result in a fatality.
Some other ways that nursing homes can help residents avoid choking incidents and death:
- Using special preparations on foods that are difficult for seniors to swallow, such as the “julienne” method, blending, pureeing, or prepping soft foods that are easily chewable
- Adjusting residents’ seating position to ensure they remain upright while eating
- Having a trained nurse or medical professional monitor at-risk seniors as they eat
- Training facility staff to go slowly and remain patient when feeding an incapacitated or disabled resident
- Making sure that residents have enough water to stay hydrated, whether through drinking or an IV tube
- Checking breathing tubes for blockages and other issues
- Reminding all staff about the proper emergency protocol if someone is choking
- Creating an effective communication system for prompt emergency services
- Checking that all dining residents have dentures and other required equipment to chew and digest food properly
Causes of Choking Among Nursing Homes Residents
Dysphagia is difficulty swallowing. It can affect any age group, but most notably older adults. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found choking contributed to 8% of unintentional injury deaths among adults ages 65 and older due to suffocation.
Dysphagia in elderly nursing home patients might be due to several medical conditions. For example, neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can weaken or damage the throat nerves and muscles. Other conditions that could lead to increased choking risk include:
- Weakening of the esophageal muscles
- Narrowing of the esophagus
- Diminished saliva production due to age or medication
- Loose teeth or dentures making it hard to chew
- Improperly wearing dentures
Regardless of the cause, it requires more time and effort for elderly patients with dysphagia to swallow food. Therefore, nursing home staff must exercise patience and responsiveness to ensure residents do not choke while eating. In addition, Medicare will pay extra for patients who require assistance while eating, but the facility still does not provide the necessary care.
Your Advocates After a Preventable Choking Injury or Death
There’s nothing that can truly account for the pain of losing a loved one to a preventable choking incident. If your senior loved one has suffered from choking injuries or died as a result of nursing home neglect, our team at Brown & Barron, LLC can apply over 137 years of combined experience to your case, serving as your compassionate advisors throughout the legal process. Because our law firm focuses on cases of nursing home and neglect, we have the experience, skills, and reputation to help you fight for fair compensation in the wake of losses – and ensure that the nursing home is held accountable for its actions.
Do you think that you have a nursing home choking injury claim? Contact us today to schedule free consultation in Baltimore or anywhere in Maryland.