Personal Injury & Nursing Home Abuse
Pittsburgh and Western PA

Protecting Residents: Addressing Choking Hazards in Nursing Homes

A nursing home abuse and neglect attorney explains the risks

One of a nursing home’s most important responsibilities is to keep residents safe. When safety standards slip, residents are at risk of choking and other serious issues. Choking can be deadly, and survivors may be left with permanent injuries that lead to life-threatening complications.

Residents face choking hazards every day, so it's crucial to act fast. An experienced nursing home abuse and neglect attorney can help you take action. Your loved one's safety matters, and preventable choking incidents should never be overlooked. Your family deserves someone in their corner. Call Hal Waldman & Associates.

Symptoms and warning signs of choking

When choking happens, food goes down the windpipe instead of the swallowing tube (esophagus) and gets stuck, blocking the air passage. Recognizing the symptoms and risks associated with choking is important for the safety of nursing home residents. Someone who is choking may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Inability to talk
  • Panic, shocked, or confused look
  • Strained or noisy breathing
  • Clutching the throat with the hands
  • A weak cough
  • Loss of color in the skin, lips, and nails
  • Loss of consciousness

Choking is a medical emergency. All nursing home staff need to be trained to promptly intervene and protect residents during a choking incident.

Dysphagia and choking

Those who suffer from dysphagia (trouble swallowing) are at a higher risk of choking. When someone has difficulty moving food or liquids from their mouth to their stomach, food can become lodged in the esophagus. Many underlying issues can cause dysphagia, like neurological issues (strokes or Parkinson's), damage from injuries, cancer, or dementia.

When a resident has dysphagia, caregivers must assess and respond appropriately. Tailoring their meals, using specific strategies for safer eating, and keeping an eye on residents during meals can help lower the risk of choking incidents related to dysphagia.

Choking hazards

In nursing homes, a multitude of factors can pose risks for choking incidents among residents, from specific dietary needs to individual health conditions and the surrounding environment. Recognizing and managing these risks is crucial to prevent choking and ensuring residents' safety. Some hazards that may cause choking include:

  • Dry mouth: Having a dry mouth can make swallowing difficult. It's important to keep residents hydrated to aid in swallowing and reduce choking risks.
  • Food texture: Serving appropriate food textures that match residents' swallowing abilities is crucial.
  • Laying down during meals: Eating while lying down increases the risk of choking. Residents should be in a 45 degree sitting posture.
  • Loose dentures: Ill-fitting or loose dentures can interfere with proper chewing and swallowing, contributing to choking risks.
  • Being fed too quickly: Rapid feeding doesn't allow residents enough time to chew and swallow properly. A slower feeding pace helps prevent incidents.
  • Enlarged tonsils: Enlarged tonsils can obstruct the airway, making swallowing difficult and increasing choking hazards. Medical attention may be needed to address this issue.
  • Neck and throat tumors: Tumors in the neck or throat can obstruct the airway or affect swallowing. Medical evaluation and appropriate care are essential in managing these conditions.
  • Lack of supervision during mealtime: Inadequate supervision increases choking risks as residents may face difficulties without immediate assistance.
  • Understaffing: Insufficient staff can impact mealtime supervision and assistance, heightening the risk of choking incidents.

Consequences of choking

Choking incidents in nursing homes can have devastating consequences, potentially resulting in fatal outcomes for residents. The loss of oxygen to the brain can lead to death within minutes without proper interventions.

Surviving a choking episode often leaves individuals with severe residual damage or life-threatening injuries. The immediate danger of choking and the aftermath may include a range of repercussions, both physical and emotional.

  • Respiratory issues: Choking incidents may result in ongoing breathing problems such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or persistent coughing.
  • Throat and esophageal trauma: Choking can cause throat irritation, discomfort, or damage to the esophagus, leading to difficulties in swallowing food or liquids and discomfort while speaking.
  • Asphyxiation and hypoxia: Severe choking can cause asphyxiation, resulting in oxygen deprivation. This lack of oxygen, known as hypoxia, can lead to brain and tissue damage, affecting cognitive functions and movement.
  • Complications from choking maneuvers: Attempts to dislodge obstructions, like the Heimlich Maneuver, may unintentionally cause abdominal injuries, such as bruises or internal bleeding.
  • Malnutrition and dehydration: Avoidance of certain foods due to fear of choking and reduced intake of food and liquids following choking incidents may lead to nutrient deficiencies causing malnutrition and dehydration.
  • Pneumonia and lung disease: Inhaled food particles can cause lung infections or pneumonia, resulting in respiratory difficulties and potential long-term lung issues.
  • Emotional impact: Experiencing choking incidents can trigger emotional responses like anxiety, fear, or post-traumatic stress, affecting the resident's mental well-being and creating anxiety during meals.

Choking prevention

Keeping residents safe from choking in nursing homes is critical. Learning how to spot hazards and symptoms is one thing, but implementing prevention tactics is another. Below is a guideline of tips to help prevent choking in nursing homes:

  • Follow the facility’s choking response plan
  • Use approved foods and utensils according to the care plan
  • Confirm dentures are securely in place during meals
  • Always make sure there is enough supervision at meal times
  • Ensure residents are awake, alert, and seated upright
  • Prompt residents to swallow or slow down when needed
  • Don't rush or force-feed residents
  • Add agents to food and liquids to make them easier to swallow
  • Report any eating difficulties

Understaffing and failure to train staff to appropriately respond to choking incidents can dramatically increase the risk of a choking death in a nursing home. Choking is preventable. When nursing homes don’t do their jobs, our law firm can help.

How can a Pittsburgh nursing home abuse and neglect attorney help?

When it comes to dealing with cases involving choking or nursing home abuse and neglect, things can get complicated. Your family needs someone who has the specific knowledge and experience needed to build a strong case against a nursing home. At Hal Waldman & Associates, we've got your back.

Our team knows the ins and outs of handling these kinds of cases. We'll break down your options, answer your questions, and help you figure out what steps to take next. Your case matters here, and we are committed to fighting for your rights. Contact us today to set up your free consultation and get the justice your family deserves.

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