Bedsores and Seniors: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Bedsores, also known as “pressure ulcers,” occur when people spend prolonged periods in bed, so they are common in bedridden seniors. As a caregiver, it’s important to minimize the risk of bedsores, and there are a few ways you can go about doing this.

In this guide, we’ll cover treatments and preventative measures, as well as symptoms, causes, and more. 

What Causes Bedsores?

When prolonged pressure is applied to the skin, blood flow is restricted, starving the skin of oxygen and nutrients and causing skin necrosis, AKA skin death. It is more common in areas with little muscle and fat, including the hips. 

Bedsores can also result from repeat injuries caused by the bed or rails and from something known as “shear,” which occurs when the skin stretches and pulls. This can happen when the patient slides across the bed or another flat surface, for example.

Although it’s often assumed that bedsores take many weeks to form, they can actually present in just one week of prolonged pressure. If untreated, the condition can worsen and become very severe after a few more years.

The symptoms of bedsores include red/dark patches, swelling, and areas that are tender to the touch.

How to Treat Bedsores

If left untreated, serious and even life-threatening conditions can occur. It’s not uncommon for these untreated sores to become infected and to result in severe bone and joint infections. In rare instances, sepsis, which is life-threatening, can occur.

Before looking at the preventative measures to prevent reoccurrence, use the following solutions to encourage healing:

  • Relieve Pressure: Determine what caused the injury and where the pressure was coming from. Move the patient and remedy the issue. They may simply need to be repositioned or have something soft placed underneath those pressure points.
  • Clean the Wound: The wound will need to be cleaned and dressed, preferably by a medical expert. If the skin is not broken, the wound can be cleaned and dressed. If the skin is broken, it becomes a little more complicated as the risk of infection is higher, but it can also be cleaned and dressed. For severe wounds, always seek help from a registered nurse or doctor.
  • Surgery and Infections: In extreme situations, the patient may need to be treated for an infection. The dead skin can also be cut away if required, but this should always be done by a trained professional.

How to Prevent Bedsores

Prevention is the best cure, and one of the best ways to prevent bedsores is to get the patient moving. The more they move and the less time they spend in bed, the lower their risk of bedsores will be.

However, simply being aware of them and moving around as much as possible isn’t enough to keep them at bay. If you have little or no feeling in some of your body, sores can form without your knowledge. It helps if you:

Use a Pressure Relieving Mattress

You can purchase mattresses designed to provide support without placing unhealthy pressure on your body. These mattresses use foam, springs, air pockets, and a combination of these technologies to distribute weight and limit the pressure applied to specific parts of your body.

They are one of the best investments you can make, especially if you are a care recipient who spends a lot of time in bed and has issues with aching joints and muscles. Pressure-relieving mattresses range in size, style, and technology, and are generally available for anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to over $2,000.

Look at the materials used by the mattress and the features it provides. Is it firm or soft, is it cooling, and does it have a breathable and removable cover? For overweight patients, make sure you check the maximum weight capacity, as many are fixed to between 300 and 350 pounds, which may not be enough for some.

Care for the Skin

Skin needs to be moisturized and nourished, but it shouldn’t be wet. When skin is slick with sweat and other moisture, dry it. When it’s dry and rough, add some moisturizing cream.

The cream will soak into the skin and keep it moist without leaving wet residue. When skin becomes wet with water, sweat, or urine, it creates friction. Over time, as it rubs against beds, chairs, and other surfaces, this can damage the skin.

Stay Active

If the patient’s pressure sores are caused by prolonged sitting in a chair and they lack the mobility needed to stand and move around, consider investing in a lift chair.

These chairs are padded and comfortable, but more importantly, with the touch of a button, they lift the user upright and make it easy for them to get in and out. With a cane or walker on standby, they’ll have all they need for regular walks and stretches, even if they’re just walking to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee.

Wheelchair uses with a lot of upper body strength should shift their weight as often as possible and look into more supportive and comfortable cushions. Memory foam may help, and some higher-end wheelchairs come fitted with cushions and supports designed to prevent such issues.

Grab bars and handrails can be placed around the home to promote regular movement. If someone doesn’t feel safe moving around their home, they’ll feel more inclined to remain seated or to stay in bed. This is when bedsores become a serious risk.

Prepare Chairs and Beds

All bumps should be smoothed out of the bedding and all lumps should be removed from chairs. Avoid hard and flat surfaces and check to make sure that no objects have slipped under the bed or the chair cushions.

If you have an electric blanket, make sure the cable or plug isn’t exposed and pressing against the skin. If the mattress is old and hard springs are sticking out, consider investing in a new one.