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Nursing Homes Must Reduce Choking Risks for Elderly Residents

Elderly hands hold a soup bowl and spoon

Seniors 65 and older face a significantly higher risk of choking and asphyxiation. Researchers estimate that up to 40 percent of elderly nursing home residents experience difficulty swallowing. At Shuttlesworth Law Firm, P.C., we understand that this risk is a serious concern and that choking incidents are often signs of nursing home negligence.

Choking can occur due to nursing home neglect

Nursing homes are legally obligated to reduce choking hazards, but unfortunately, many fail to regularly screen for such risks or provide proper follow-up care after choking incidents. Yet, choking incidents in nursing homes are often the result of preventable human error or neglect, whether involving food, medication, medical equipment, liquids, or other factors.

It's difficult to pinpoint the exact number of choking incidents that take place in nursing homes because many researchers believe the industry substantially underreports such incidents. However, by some estimates, elderly nursing home residents have a choking and suffocation death rate eight times higher than any other age group.

Understanding choking risks in nursing homes

Choking is a widespread problem in nursing homes, with factors like decreased saliva production, medications with mouth-drying side effects, and dehydration contributing to the issue. This condition, known as "dysphagia," can affect a significant percentage of nursing home residents. Neglect like this in nursing homes can lead to devastating consequences in addition to choking, such as septic shock and aspiration pneumonia.

For loved ones, staff, and residents, recognizing risk factors and reducing hazards may be life-saving. Some common symptoms that someone is at a higher risk for choking include:

  • Difficulty communicating
  • Drooling
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Vomiting
  • The sensation of food being "stuck" in the throat
  • Medications that cause dry mouth
  • Lack of access to water and other fluids
  • History of choking

Identifying choking hazards

Choking hazards in nursing homes can vary from food and medication to medical devices and supplies. It's the responsibility of the staff to consistently take action to prevent these incidents. Common contributing factors in nursing home choking events include:

  • Feeding speed
  • Improperly fitting dentures
  • Understaffing
  • Lack of mealtime monitoring

Nursing homes can employ strategies like "bolus modification" to reduce choking risks, focusing on serving easily chewable food, ensuring an upright seated position for eating, and providing ample time for residents to eat slowly and chew thoroughly. However, follow-up care for residents with choking risks is often insufficient. One study found that about 75 percent of nursing homes do not regularly screen for dysphagia. Many do not conduct follow-up evaluations after a choking incident.

Seeking justice for your loved one

Nursing homes have a legal duty to provide proper care to residents, including preventing choking incidents. Choking events in nursing homes can lead to fatal or non-fatal injuries, such as throat damage, complications from the Heimlich Maneuver, asphyxiation, hypoxia, brain damage, and aspiration pneumonia.

If your loved one has suffered due to a choking incident, it's essential to explore your potential legal options. For over two decades, Shuttlesworth Law Firm, P.C. in Birmingham, Alabama has been at the forefront of handling complex legal cases related to nursing home neglect and abuse. To see how we can help with your potential legal case, contact us today for a free and confidential case evaluation.

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