Dysphagia is the medical term meaning swallowing difficulties. While this condition can affect people of any age and be caused by various disorders or external factors, a large number of nursing home residents suffer from dysphagia. It is estimated that up to 70% of nursing home patients have some level of dysphagia.

Medical Complications Caused by Dysphagia in Nursing Homes

Swallowing difficulties lead to a myriad of other medical conditions and complications, including aspiration pneumonia, choking, malnutrition, and dehydration.

One of the most dangerous complications is choking. This is a serious concern for the aging population because choking is the second-highest cause of preventable deaths for residents in long-term care facilities. The risk of choking for people over the age of 65 is seven times higher than that of children between one and four years old.

When patients are concerned about choking or have a hard time swallowing their food, they can experience malnourishment or dehydration. It is crucial that nursing home caregivers ensure patients are receiving the proper nutrition and hydration, especially when there are added challenges like dysphagia. Whether through feeding assistance, special diets, or feeding tubes, nursing home staff must take extra care to keep patients healthy despite their swallowing difficulties.

Dysphagia and nursing home neglect can also lead to aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when food, saliva, or liquids are breathed into the lungs rather than being swallowed into the stomach. Older populations are at higher risk for aspiration pneumonia, which means nursing home residents with dysphagia should be closely monitored for this condition. When nursing home doctors and staff fail to recognize the signs of aspiration pneumonia in time, the results can be life-threatening for patients.

If you or your loved one have experienced medical complications caused by dysphagia and suspect that a nursing home failed to properly diagnose or treat the condition, contact the Connecticut nursing home neglect attorneys at D’Amico & Pettinicchi.

Dysphagia and the Responsibilities of Nursing Homes

Screening for dysphagia is an important step in the care nursing homes provide for their elderly patients. Difficulty eating and swallowing should not be dismissed as a normal part of aging; dysphagia is a dangerous medical condition. Despite this, testing and screening are not common practices in many nursing homes. There are many non-invasive options available for checking patients, including:

  • Observation
  • Cough assessments
  • Questionnaires
  • Water swallow tests
  • Gag reflex evaluations
  • Trial swallows

Depending on the unique needs of each nursing home patient with dysphagia, medical staff have a few options for protecting the health and safety of residents, including:

  • Cutting large pieces of food into smaller portions
  • Assisting with feeding
  • Constant monitoring during mealtime
  • Ensuring the patient does not lie down while eating
  • Changing diets to avoid foods that are hard to chew or swallow
  • Guiding patients to eat more slowly
  • Watching the patient for signs of aspiration pneumonia
  • Use of a percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy (PEG) tube

Nursing home staff have a duty to care for their residents. If doctors, nurses, or other healthcare professionals fail to provide adequate care and treatment for aging patients, they may be liable for the harm caused by their medical malpractice, elder neglect, or abuse.

Contact D’Amico & Pettinicchi to schedule a free consultation with our Connecticut nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys.