As Baby Boomers age, many are finding themselves taking care of their elderly parents – an estimated 5 million American households says the AARP – and the number is growing by about 10% each year. There is a disturbing trend emerging among these home-cared older adults that is responsible for 60,000 deaths each year – the ineffective care of pressure ulcer wounds (also known as “bed sores”). The Department of Health & Human Services reports that the problem is getting worse (63% increase in reported cases in the past decade alone) and it’s costing our healthcare system more than $1 billion each year.
Because one’s skin becomes thinner and begins breaking down over time, the elderly and infirmed are more susceptible to these painful wounds, which can develop in as little as 2 hours. They are caused by constant pressure to a particular area of the body (67% of wounds are found on the hips and buttocks while 25% affect the legs and feet).
So what steps can be taken to prevent these wounds?
· Limit your baths to no more than 3 times per week for no longer than 5 minutes
· Keep water temperature lukewarm
· Add bath oil
· Do not use soaps as they contain harsh detergents (Dove is the exception)
· Do not use washcloths as they can break down the skin
· Do not towel dry using swift motions. Instead, softly pat dry
· Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing and reapply 4 times each day
· Stay well hydrated
· Avoid caffeine, spices and alcohol
Vigilance is key to prevention and incorporating some key strategies will prevent skin tears that can lead to pressure ulcer wounds.
· Improper lifting and turning are two of the most common causes of skin tears. You can avoid them by using sheets to help shift the body’s position.
· Skin on skin contact also leaves one vulnerable to tears, so wearing long sleeves and stockinettes can reduce such incidents
· If a wound does develop, do not use hydrogen peroxide or Dakins Solution as these products kill healthy tissue and impede the healing process.
Board-certified general surgeon Bardia Anvar, M.D. is founder of Valley Urgent Care in Northridge, Calif. and medical director of Skilled Wound Care in West Los Angeles. He is the author of “Mastery of SkinWound and Ostomy Care,” the definitive tome on the subject and is a frequent speaker before his colleagues in the worlds of urgent care and wound care. He majored in neuroscience and received his Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA, received his M.D. from Mt Sinai School Of Medicine in New York City and completed his general residency training at UC Irvine.