What Causes a Decubitus Ulcer to Develop?

By Nursing Home Law Center

Elderly Patient

Originating from the Latin term meaning “to lay down” — decubitus ulcers are perhaps most accurately categorized as an open wound on the skin that can penetrate to the surrounding tissues, muscle and bone in the area. Decubitus ulcers are most prevalent on people with limited mobility or who may be immobile and bedridden for prolonged periods of time — particularly during admissions to nursing homes, assisted living facilities or hospitals.

Remaining in one position for extended periods – without any pressure relief — can gradually reduce the blood supply and circulation to the area and cause a decubitus ulcer to develop. If the resulting decubitus ulcer is not identifided and treated by attending staff in its early stages, a small decubitus ulcer can rapidly progress resulting in large, open-wounds and serious medical complications or even death can ensue.

Though decubitus ulcers may affect any person with compromised mobility, the development of decubitus ulcers in patients in nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities has become an (incorrectly) perceived part of the aging process.

As opposed to simply being an emblem of old age, decubitus ulcers commonly arise with the convergence of several risk factors including: immobility, unrelieved pressure, malnourishment, dehydration and inadequate staffing levels impact the patient on their own or in concert with one another.

The most commonly associated preventative measures caretakers and medical facility staff can implement to avoid the development of decubitus ulcers is to regularly relieve the pressure from pressure points on the patient’s body (usually hips, buttocks or back) and to help keep the patient clean and dry.

When decubitus ulcers develop, patients face a lengthy and painful treatment process and are at heightened risk for complications such as sepsis, gangrene, osteomyelitis or even death.

If staff fail to meet the needs of an patient in a medical facility and the individual develops a decubitus ulcer, the individual or their family may be entitled to pursue a legal claim or lawsuit against the facility based upon their negligence. Lawsuits involving the development of decubitus ulcers may involve recovery of monetary damages for medical care, pain and suffering or lost wages depending on condition of the person prior to the time the decubitus ulcers developed.

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