Choking in California Nursing Homes
Difficulty swallowing puts elderly individuals at significant risk of injury and death from choking. According to recent studies, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States. In recent years, well over half of all individuals who died from choking were over the age of 74. Nursing home staff have a duty to monitor residents when they eat to minimize the risk of injury and death from choking, but they often fall short due to neglect. If someone you love died from choking due to nursing home neglect, you may want to consider speaking to a California nursing home neglect attorney.
Risks of Choking Among the Elderly
The elderly are at a greater risk of choking primarily because, as the body ages, it produces less saliva, making chewing and swallowing food more difficult (known medically as “dysphagia”). Without sufficient saliva, the mouth and esophagus become dry, increasing the risk that chewed food will become lodged in the throat. Many elderly individuals commonly suck on hard candy to keep saliva flowing, but hard candy itself can also be a choking risk.
Besides chronic dry mouth, several other age-related conditions can also increase the risk of choking among the elderly, including:
- Missing teeth
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Attempting to eat too quickly
- Loss of muscle strength in the mouth and throat
- Certain medical conditions, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and cancers of the mouth, neck, and throat
- Poor posture
The elderly can choke on any type of food, but certain foods present more risks than others. Some common high-risk foods include:
- Chicken with bones
- Bread and rice
- Large chunks of fruits and vegetables
- Hot dogs
- Peanut butter
Choking on liquids, known as aspiration, is also common among the elderly and occurs when liquids “go down the wrong pipe.”
Signs and Symptoms of Choking
Choking does not always occur as it does in the movies, making it difficult for caregivers to notice it is happening in some cases. Some of the most common signs that a choking event is occurring include:
- Clutching at the throat
- Pointing at the throat or making hand gestures
- Inability to speak or breathe
- Coughing, wheezing, and other unusual sounds
- A change in the person’s color
- Loss of consciousness and collapse
Choking can lead to serious injuries and death, as well as neurological issues caused by the deprivation of oxygen to the brain. Inattention may also be to blame as when staff are watching TV or texting on their phones when they should be observing patients having a meal or snack.
How Does Choking Occur in California Nursing Homes?
There are many reasons why choking occurs in nursing homes, but the most obvious is neglect. Many nursing homes are understaffed, which can result in inadequate supervision of residents while they eat. Undertrained staff may not even notice that choking is occurring or know what to do when it is — or worse, take inappropriate measures that harm the choking victim further. In other cases, hospice and nursing home staff may provide inappropriate foods that present a risk of choking to residents.
Contact a California Nursing Home Neglect Attorney for More Information
For more information about choking due to neglect in nursing homes, or to discuss the legal options available to you, please contact a California nursing home neglect attorney at the Evans Law Firm by using our online form or calling us at 415-441-8669.