As we get older, the loss of muscle mass and strength are a natural part of the aging process. All muscles in the body become weaker, including the ones we use for chewing and swallowing food. Difficulty swallowing food is the number one cause of choking deaths in nursing homes. According to Injury Facts 2017, published by the National Safety Council (NSC), of the 5,051 people who died from choking in 2015, 2,848 were older than 74. Another frightening statistic: those over 65 years of age are seven times more at risk for choking on food than children aged one through four, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Difficulty Swallowing Causes Choking Risk
There are several different reasons an elderly loved one may experience difficulty swallowing food which can lead to choking. Let’s take a closer look at some of the causes of choking in nursing homes:
When a person has trouble swallowing, it is called dysphagia, and the condition is most common in older adults. Dysphagia is described as difficulty swallowing due to weak nerve or muscle control. There are certain conditions that can cause dysphagia, making it more difficult to move food from the mouth into the throat and esophagus during the swallowing process. These conditions as listed by the Mayo Clinic include:
- Neurological diseases – Disorders such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson’s disease can put someone at a higher risk of dysphagia.
- Neurological damage – Sudden neurological damage caused by a stroke or spinal injury can affect a person’s ability to swallow.
- Cancer – There are certain cancers and some treatments such as radiation that can make it a challenge to swallow.
If someone who suffers from dysphagia chokes, gags, or coughs while trying to swallow food or liquid, they could aspirate on that food or liquid and that could lead to pneumonia, another life-threatening condition.
Dentures That Do Not Fit
Good dental health is crucial to being able to chew and swallow food properly. Missing teeth, poorly fitting dentures, and oral disease decrease chewing efficiency which can result in gagging and choking.
Laying Down During Meals
Many seniors suffer from conditions and muscle weakness that prevents them from maintaining a proper sitting position during meals. This instability presents a choking hazard because it makes it more difficult to swallow.
Food texture can play a big role in a nursing home resident’s ability to swallow during mealtime. Staff may be asked to modify meals by mincing, chopping, or pureeing food to make chewing and swallowing easier.
Certain medications and conditions can cause dry mouth. The lack of saliva makes it more difficult for food particles to break down during the chewing process and food can get caught in the throat. This can lead to choking or aspiration which can result in pneumonia.
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Complications from Choking
The most serious risk from choking is death. If there is a failure to get medical help to the victim in time, there are serious complications that can result if the victim survives the choking incident. Within the first five minutes, brain cells begin to die without oxygen. This leaves the victim with brain damage specifically to the areas of the brain that control movement, memory, and balance. This can lead to long-term nursing or rehabilitative care which can be costly and drain families financially.
Causes of Choking in Nursing Homes Can Be the Result of Neglect
When you entrust your loved one to the care of a nursing home, you expect the staff will follow all instructions regarding your family member’s medical status. If he or she suffers from dysphagia due to a medical condition, staff members may be instructed to closely monitor that resident during mealtime and ensure all dietary restrictions are followed properly.
If you believe your loved one’s choking incident was caused by a negligent nursing home or nursing home employee, you may be eligible for compensation on behalf of your elderly loved one. In order to receive compensation for their injuries and losses, you will have to prove negligence. The four elements you must prove in a personal injury or wrongful death case include:
- The nursing home owed your loved one a duty of care.
- The nursing home breached that duty of care (due to abuse or neglect).
- That breach caused your loved one’s injuries.
- Your loved one suffered damages as a result (both economic and noneconomic).
Call Ben Crump Law, PLLC Today
If you believe a negligent nursing home is responsible for your loved one’s choking injury or death, you have a right to seek justice on their behalf. Call Ben Crump Law, PLLC at (800) 959-1444 for a free, confidential consultation with a member of our team today. Your loved one should not have to suffer another day for an injury they did not deserve. We can handle all aspects of your case during this difficult time. Call us today for your free consultation.