When a person is weak and bedridden, there is a risk they will develop bedsores – also referred to as pressure sores, decubitus ulcers, ischemic ulcers or pressure ulcers. Not only are they uncomfortable, but they also can become infected, resulting in other problems. This guide will help you understand how and why bedsores develop, and what you can do to prevent them.
As we age, our skin becomes more fragile. Lying in one position for long periods of time can irritate sensitive skin, especially in weight-bearing, bony areas such as the heels, elbows, and tail bone where pressure decreases the blood flow. If a bedridden person isn’t being routinely repositioned or “turned,” his or her skin will turn red and tender from the constant pressure. If not treated immediately, an open wound will develop, which becomes a prime source for infections.
Ways to prevent bedsores
Experts recommend the following action steps to prevent pressure sores:
- Get your loved one to move his body regularly throughout the day – at least once every two hours. Assist him in moving his legs and arms.
- Place pillows and foam pads under and around the “pressure points” of his body (e.g., elbows, tail bone, hips, buttocks, heels) to reduce the amount of weight placed upon them.
- Be careful not to restrict blood flow with pillows and cushions. For example, if your loved one is lying on his back, place a pillow under his legs between mid-calf and ankle. Don’t place the pillow under the knees or use doughnut-shaped pillows.
- Egg shell foam that you can place on top of the mattress and sheepskin pads placed under tender spots of the body are very helpful in providing support and comfort.
- Keep your loved one hydrated. Water is the best medicine to keep skin healthy. If he’s using a bedpan, he might hesitate to drink 8 glasses of water a day, but the hassle of using a bedpan is far less than the health problems he’ll induce by refusing fluids.
- Change your loved one’s clothes whenever they are wet. Be sure to change adult briefs and pads frequently.
- Keep a disposable, absorbent pad underneath your loved one to soak up any bowel or bladder “accidents,” and then be sure to wash and dry his skin immediately.
- When helping your loved one move in and out of bed, be careful not to pull or drag him, as the friction between his skin and the sheets can cause an abrasion.
- Be very careful using soaps, as they can break down the skin. Use emollient or “superfatted” soaps as opposed to alkaline bars.
- Give your loved one very gentle massages (don’t rub the reddened skin) using lotions with vitamin E and/or aloe.
If a pressure sore isn’t healing, ask a home health care nurse or a physician to take a look at it and see if more aggressive measures need to be taken. Don’t wait for it to become worse.
The bottom line
- Bed sores are uncomfortable and can lead to infections, so it’s important to look out for – and care for them – quickly.
- The skin of an older person is extremely sensitive, and it doesn’t take much to develop bedsores.
- Preventing bedsores involves regular movement and shifting of position, good hydration and ensuring that your loved one and his bed are clean and dry.
- If you see signs of a bedsore on your loved one, it’s important to let a physician or nurse know right away – so it can be taken care of before it becomes an infection.