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Posted On December 17, 2020

The 4th Leading Cause of Nursing Home Deaths Might Surprise You

Choking deaths are preventable but remain the fourth leading cause of deaths in nursing homes because of caregiver neglect. Nursing homes have a duty of care to keep their residents safe. However, the quality of care in many nursing facilities is poor.

Where Do Nursing Homes Go Wrong?

Nursing homes are directly responsible for numerous preventable deaths because of unqualified staff, chronic understaffing, and poor training. Too often, staff members are assigned too many patients at once, which leads to a failure to properly supervise or check on residents.

These nursing facilities have a duty to ensure that they have proper staffing and provide training to their employees on how to respond to choking emergencies. They must also ensure that patients are properly monitored while they eat or drink.

Why Are the Elderly at Increased Risk for Choking?

The elderly are at increased risk of choking because many suffer from dysphagia, which is difficulty in swallowing. Over half the people who choke to death are over the age of 74. Those with dysphagia experience aspiration pneumonia from fluid or food “going down the wrong pipe” and entering the lungs.

Medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, make the elderly more prone to swallowing problems. Additional conditions that increase the risk of choking include:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Strokes
  • Brain injuries
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Weakened muscles that make chewing and swallowing difficult

Poorly maintained or loose-fitting dentures increase the risk of choking. This is something that is under the control of a nursing home.

What Should Nursing Homes Do?

Proper training and staffing levels are needed to prevent choking deaths in nursing homes. The law requires that all new patients must receive an accurate and complete patient assessment. That assessment must include tests to determine how well the patient swallows and what their risk is for choking.

The choking assessment does not end at intake. Instead, nursing home staffs have an obligation to continually assess residents for choking risk. Preventing choking deaths does not involve just monitoring. It includes taking actions, such as adjusting diets to include softened or pureed foods, medication, exercises, treatments to widen the esophagus, or surgery.

Despite best efforts, choking emergencies can still happen. Therefore, nursing homes must have a medical emergency plan to deal with choking emergencies.

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