Sometimes taking care of elderly family members involves looking after individuals who are bedridden (or nearly so). In some cases, this is a permanent situation; in others, it is temporary, a result of recent surgery perhaps or a fall. In any case in which there is long-term “sedentary” time, those taking care of elderly patients need to be on the lookout for bedsores and know what to do about them.
What are bedsores?
A bedsore is a skin wound that develops when too much pressure is placed on a certain area of skin for too long a time. Typically they develop in areas of the body that are in fairly consistent contact with a bed, a chair, or a wheelchair. Those parts of the body that have the least protection (e.g., muscle and/or fat) are more likely to develop bedsores. Although bedsores are typically associated with individuals confined to one space for days, weeks, or months at a time, it’s important to know that if a person is truly immobile, bedsores can develop in as little as twelve hours.
The key here is total immobility. Most people do not really remain immobile for long stretches of time. Even those with 8-hour desk jobs shift around in their chairs, lean forward, or otherwise cause the pressure on their skin to shift around during the day. And at night, people tend to move about while they sleep.
The easiest way to prevent bedsores is to keep a body in a reasonable degree of motion. When taking care of elderly patients, that may not always be easy to do. Moving the patient every two hours when they are in bed, or every half-hour if they are in a wheelchair, is desirable. The goal here is to re-position the body slightly so that areas most likely to be receiving pressure (the tailbone, elbows, hips, shoulder blades, heels, etc.) can be relieved.
There may be other options that can help an individual patient; consulting with a doctor is advised.
Minor bedsores usually disappear when a proper re-positioning schedule is implemented. More serious bedsores may require extra steps, as recommended by a physician. These may include:
- Dietary changes which incorporate fresh vegetables, especially those that provide greater amounts of vitamin C and zinc
- Removal of dead tissue and treatment with saline solutions
- Dressings which provide moisture to the wound but do not dampen surrounding areas
- In severe cases, surgery may be needed to properly heal bedsores.
Helping to prevent bedsores makes care of elderly patients much easier for both caregiver and patient. Being on top of potential bedsore development can make a big difference.