As loved ones age, they may experience difficulty swallowing their food and pills, as well as choking hazards due to medical conditions. Nursing homes must supervise residents during mealtime to ensure their safety and comfort, ultimately preventing a choking incident. Although accidents can happen, failure to adhere to rules and procedures in nursing homes can lead to legal cases with the intervention of nursing home abuse attorneys.
Causes of Choking
The causes of choking incidents in a nursing home vary greatly, though the most common cause is dysphagia. Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, can lead to brain injury and ultimately death. Other common causes of choking in nursing homes include the following:
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Stroke and other brain injuries
- Cancer of the throat or mouth
- Parkinson’s disease
- Myasthenia gravis
- Lou Gehrig’s disease
- Medications that cause dry mouth
- Medications that cause excessive salivation
- Objects in a breathing tube
Any of these conditions or illnesses may require a special diet with specific foods that prevent choking risks.
Complications of Dysphagia
If dysphagia and other swallowing conditions go untreated and unmonitored, they can cause long-term complications. According to Mayo Clinic, difficulty swallowing may lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and weight loss. It may also lead to respiratory problems that can cause pain and suffering for nursing home residents by triggering pneumonia or upper respiratory infections.
Nursing Home Dysphagia Diets
When residents find it hard to swallow due to dysphagia, everyday routines may become frustrating. It is important for nursing homes to implement remedies and solutions that help residents feel more comfortable. Changing eating habits to consume smaller and more frequent meals can alleviate symptoms. Nursing homes may also implement a dysphagia diet, which is easy to adjust to a resident’s personal taste. Such diets may include pureed foods, chopped and ground dishes combined with liquids, and soft foods like tender meats. Thickened liquids such as cream-based soups are also good additions when testing a dysphagia diet for a nursing home resident.
Choking Prevention in Nursing Homes
Staff members should become aware that a resident’s condition, medication, or illness puts them at a high risk for choking. Along with close monitoring, staff should conduct frequent assessments and medical examinations to assess a resident’s ability to chew and swallow. Adjusting their diet as necessary, as well as initiating a better monitoring program for the residents, can help prevent incidents of choking. Both medical and non-medical staff should be trained to recognize when a patient is choking, as well as trained to administer first aid to a choking resident.
Choking as a Sign of Neglect
Whether or not it is a first-time occurrence, a choking incident can be a sign of nursing home neglect. It is the duty of the staff to closely monitor residents, especially those with high choking risks. Failure to oversee mealtime, monitor medication intake, or prepare the appropriate food for a restrictive diet is cause for investigation, and may lead to a potential legal case of nursing home neglect.