Pressure ulcers in elderly are more common than you think. It is the most common type of wound observed by home care providers. It is also one of the conditions that limit a person’s mobility. In fact, an estimate of 1 to 3 million Americans is affected by pressure ulcers in a year.
These ulcers should not be taken lightly. For one, they are painful and worrisome. Here’s a more cause for concern: when left untreated, pressure ulcers can lead to complications which may lead to death.
A key to preventing and treating pressure ulcers is developing a deeper understanding of it. Identifying and recognizing pressure ulcers as early as possible can be a life-saver. With this in mind, we have made a list of the important things you need to know about pressure ulcers in seniors.
What is pressure ulcer: Recognizing and identifying it
Pressure ulcer, which is also medically known as decubitus ulcer, is an injury to the skin which affects the underlying tissue as well due to prolonged pressure. It is mostly common, and especially troublesome, in the bony areas.
Seniors who use wheelchairs can develop ulcers on the areas that come in contact with the wheelchair. These areas include the buttocks, spine, shoulder blades, and the back of the legs and arms. Bedsores in the elderly are also common. This is especially true for seniors who are already bedridden. The sores often affect the hips, lower back, shoulder blades, sides of the head, back of the head, ankles, and heels.
Elderly patients with limited mobility are prone to pressure sores, which when left untreated, can become chronic and long-lasting. Hence, before pressure sores become life-threatening, it is important that family members, caregivers, and the patient themselves develop a plan of identifying, preventing, and treating sores.
Signs, Symptoms, and Stages of Pressure Ulcers
Pressure ulcer symptoms are easy to spot. Before the sores appear, here are the early warning signs you should watch out for: swelling, tenderness, pus-like drainage, and change in skin color. The skin also feels cooler or warmer to the touch.
To better understand pressure ulcer, here are the four stages or grades that you must be aware of:
Stage 1 Pressure Ulcer
During the stage, the skin starts to get inflamed but remains unbroken. Inflammation is usually associated with redness, hardness, oedema, induration, and discoloration.
Stage 2 Pressure Ulcer
Here, the first two layers of the skin, epidermis and dermis, are broken. These are easy to spot, as they give an appearance of blister or abrasion.
Stage 3 Pressure Ulcer
In this stage, there is already full-thickness skin loss. The subcutaneous tissue is damaged and the underlying fascia may even be affected.
Stage 4 Pressure Ulcer
This is the most serious stage. The sore now extends below the subcutaneous fat, affecting deep tissues such as ligaments, muscles, and tendons, and down to the cartilage or bone in more severe cases. There is high risk for infection.
Understanding pressure ulcers causes and risk factors are important in its prevention. These include the following:
- Peripheral vascular disease and diabetes
- Lack of mobility
- Poor hydration and poor nutrition
- Lack of sensory perception
Pressure Ulcer Prevention: 7 ways
Now that you know the signs and causes of pressure ulcers, here are some tips on how you can prevent it.
- Shift position at least once every two hours. If the elderly is bedridden, move him or her from one sleeping position to another. It helps to put pillows and other support to help the patient stay in the best position to prevent pressure ulcers. For those who are often sitting on a chair, it helps to switch positions and take breaks.
- Encourage exercise. Even those who have limited mobility can do this. Exercising does not have to involve moving about or walking. Simply moving the legs and arms can already encourage blood flow and alleviate or even prevent pressure sores.
- Keep the skin moisturized, clean, and dry. When cleaning the skin, it is encouraged that you use mild soap, cloth, or soft sponge. Don’t rub the skin to prevent irritation. Just pat the skin dry. It also helps to apply skin moisturizers.
- Proper hydration and nutrition. Keep the skin healthy by making sure that the senior is eating healthy foods and drinking enough water.
- Wear comfortable clothing. Comfort is the key. Avoid wearing too tight clothing or clothing with buttons and zippers.
- Use pillows as support when sleeping. Pillows serve as a comfortable barrier between areas of the body that may touch with each other, like heels, ankles, and knees
- Use pressure-relieving support. These include mattresses and cushions that are made with a special gel or foam, and mattresses or overlays with alternating pressure systems.
Pressure ulcers can be prevented and managed. Just make sure that you watch out for any warning signs and risk factors. Take measures to prevent it as well in order to improve the quality of life of the elderly.