I suspect at least some of our readers may have heard of the organization, “A Place for Mom.” For those who haven’t, I suggest they go to the agency’s website www.aplaceformom.com. There they will find a useful tool for those who are looking for senior living options, either for themselves or on behalf of an aging loved one.
Among the resources on this website, a blog is frequently posted that addresses matters of concern to our aging population. A regular contributor to that blog, Sarah Stevenson, an author from California, has written a number of extremely good and helpful articles, including a recent article titled, “8 Predictions about the Future of Assisted Living.” Ms. Stevenson also wrote an interesting, and accurate, overview of infections in the elderly, titled “The 5 Most Common Infections in the Elderly.”
In reviewing potential nursing home claims, lawyers in our firm frequently see infections playing a role in the injury or death of a nursing home patient. Ms. Stevenson notes in her blog piece that, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), about one-third of all deaths of people older than 65 result from infectious diseases. That number is highly significant.
Being educated about the types of infections that are most common, as Ms. Stevenson points out, likely will assist the family members and the caregivers to more quickly observe changes in the patient’s behavior or attitude and more timely diagnose and treat infections in the elderly. Quoting from Infectious Disease Clinics of North America, Ms. Stevenson notes: “Nonspecific symptoms such as loss of appetite, decline in functioning, mental status changes, incontinence, and falls may be the presenting signs of infection.”
If a family member were to see an aged loved one exhibiting these signs or symptoms, several possible causes might be involved, including over-medication, underlying health issues, or simply failing health. But the problem also could be an acute issue, such as infection. Most infections can be eliminated if timely treatment, such as antibiotics, is provided. Also, the effects of infections, including sepsis, gangrene and the like, can be largely eliminated if timely and appropriate treatment is provided. Ms. Stevenson in her blog piece observes that the following five forms of infection are most common in senior adults:
• Urinary tract infections (UTIs);
• Skin infections;
• Bacterial pneumonia;
• Elderly influenza; and
• Gastrointestinal (GI) infections.
Ms. Stevenson notes that UTIs are the most common infection seen in the elderly. That’s consistent with what our lawyers find in nursing home litigation. Ms. Stevenson notes that this is common in patients with catheters or who suffer from diabetes, but our observation is that it goes far beyond this. Other contributing causes that we see, though not empirically supported, are dehydration and poor hygiene care of elderly patients in long-term care facilities. Medications may also indirectly contribute to the formation of UTIs, since some medications promote dehydration. As Ms. Stevenson notes, it is imperative that nursing home patients remain well hydrated. It is also important that UTIs are quickly diagnosed and treated.
The second type of infection noted by Ms. Stevenson is skin infections. Without a doubt, one of the top three types of cases lawyers in our firm review in the nursing home arena involves the formation of sores, pressure sores or decubitus ulcers. Any area of open skin dramatically increases the risk of bacterial infection, and the presence of bacteria in an open wound greatly increases the probability of the onset of sepsis. Once an elderly patient becomes septic, the risk of death is much more likely, especially if the sepsis becomes systemic. Ms. Stevenson notes some bacteria-reducing measures that can be followed, such as good handwashing, but there is no substitute for prevention of sores or open skin tears in the elderly.
Next, Ms. Stevenson lists bacterial pneumonia. Again, in our review of potential nursing home claims, we see a number of individuals who develop pneumonia. According to AAFP, referenced by Ms. Stevenson, “[m]ore than 60 percent of seniors older than 65 get admitted to hospitals due to pneumonia.” Ms. Stevenson lists a number of factors that increase the risks of pneumonia in the elderly, including reduced lung capacity, other morbidity factors (such as existing cardiopulmonary disease), diabetes and the like. Reduced activity among the elderly and lowered immune system function no doubt also greatly increase not only the risk of developing pneumonia but recovering from the onset of that illness. Vaccination against some forms of pneumonia is also not a bad idea either.
Ms. Stevenson also lists two other common infections among the elderly, and those are elderly influenza and GI infections. These, too, are serious medical conditions that need to be prevented, where possible, or timely treated where the onset cannot be avoided.
The most important thing for family members to remember, however, is that it is imperative to watch for change in the medical state of elderly persons. Increased weakness, confusion, difficulty breathing, difficulty communicating, or any other sudden onset of change in status should be quickly assessed. If the facility where a loved one is located will not assess the patient to the family’s satisfaction, it might be beneficial to insist on a transfer of the loved one to an emergency room for a full medical workup and evaluation.
Most of these issues can be determined through lab analysis, diagnostic evaluations such as x-rays, or by visual observations. Time is critical for those who are getting older in making sure the proper care is provided to maintain or improve the quality of life.
If you need more information, contact Ben Locklar, a lawyer in our firm who handles Nursing Home Litigation, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Ben.Locklar@beasleyallen.com.
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