When your loved one receives treatment in a nursing facility, you expect doctors to address the immediate or ongoing condition. What you don’t expect is for your parent, spouse or family member to receive an infection during the stay.
Statistics show this scenario is surprisingly common: Nursing homes see 1 to 3 million infections per year, with 380,000 proving fatal. Roughly one in four nursing home patients experiences at least one infection per year. Behind these figures can be multiple scenarios:
- Those over the age of 65 generally tend to have higher infection rates, likely due to a weakened immune system.
- In a nursing home environment, several sick residents share air, food, water and health care facilities.
- Homes further see visitors and staff members coming and going, with these individuals bringing in pathogens from the outside.
- Residents in homes have a greater chance of being exposed to multidrug-resistant bacteria. According to a May 2017 article published in HealthDay News, about one-quarter of all nursing home residents seem to harbor E. coli or a similar type of bacteria. Averages vary across homes, ranging from about 10 percent to nearly 60 percent in some cases.
- Those in long-term care or living with dementia tend to have higher infection risks.
In addition to these factors, infections manifest differently in seniors than they do in children and adults. Someone suffering from an infection may have a sudden loss of appetite, fall frequently, experience incontinence or long-term discomfort or develop a chronic health condition that results in hospitalization.
Figures indicate infections are becoming even more widespread: Since 2010, rates have gone from being the eighth-most common citation to the first. Which conditions are more likely to afflict seniors?
Properly known as Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA occurs when bacteria get into the body through a cut or sore. Breathing tubes, catheters and other devices connected to the bloodstream have been known to transmit it. Because MRSA is resistant to antibiotics and can develop into a blood infection, it’s especially dangerous for seniors.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
A classic symptom of a UTI – pain when urinating – appears absent with most seniors, thus making this bacterial infection difficult to diagnose. For this age group, the condition may show up as sudden behavioral changes, including dementia that seems to worsen, confusion and incontinence, and often correlates with catheter use. However, patients who are dehydrated may also develop this infection.
Several factors – diabetes, cardiopulmonary diseases, smaller lungs or changes in lung capacity, and lying down for hours at a time – make seniors especially susceptible to developing pneumonia. As with other infections, standard symptoms usually are not visible. Instead, a patient may seem extremely weak, confused or delirious. It’s estimated that 33 out of every 1,000 nursing home residents pick up pneumonia, with those using a feeding tube having significantly higher risks.
Due to their weakened immune system, the flu is also extremely common among seniors in nursing homes. When left untreated, the flu may develop into pneumonia. Bacteria can spread very quickly in a confined space through sneezing and coughing. Staff can also be slow to diagnose patients, as many don’t have standard symptoms like a fever, chills or a cough.
As we age, skin takes longer to heal and is less likely to resist disease. As a result, this area of the body has a much higher chance of developing sores and tears, which can then:
- Become pressure ulcers.
- Turn into a pathway for viral infections, such as shingles.
- Cause a patient to develop a foot fungal infection – common for those living with diabetes.
- May become cellulitis.
Like the skin, the digestive system goes through changes as we age, including a shift in gastrointestinal flora. Antibiotics – common in nursing homes – often exaggerate this. As a result, a senior has increased risks of developing a gastrointestinal infection, such as:
- Helicobacter pylori, a condition typically manifesting as a fever, nausea and abdominal pain. If the condition goes untreated, the patient may develop gastritis or another long-term illness.
- Clostridium difficile, a condition related to antibiotic use that causes diarrhea.
Signs of Negligence
Sometimes infections can occur under good circumstances. Unfortunately, the working environment may present a challenge to nursing home staff. Look out for the following signs that can lead to insufficient treatment:
- Under staffing
- Underpaid employees
- Overworked staff
Could negligence be responsible for the infection your loved one caught while in the care of a nursing home? For the elderly, infections have serious consequences. All parties need to be held responsible for putting your loved one’s health at risk. To start pursuing a claim, work with Trantolo & Trantolo. Contact us today to speak with one of our attorneys.