Ann Arbor residents have likely heard the term “bedsores” before, especially if they have elder relatives in assisted living facilities. It may sound relatively minor compared to many of the shocking, headline-grabbing stories we hear all too often of nursing home neglect and abuse.

The truth is that bedsores, or pressure ulcers, are not only a serious condition, but they may also be a warning sign that neglect in a relative’s care is more widespread than is otherwise apparent. So it’s worth asking, to be clear, just what causes bedsores? How does one prevent them, and what should be done if you notice a failure to prevent bedsores with one of your elder relatives?

Bedsores, pressure ulcers or pressure sores — these are all terms referring to the damage skin suffers when pressed for an extended time against a hard surface. Due to the pressure, blood flow to the tissue is restricted, resulting in damage to the skin or even death of that tissue. People in nursing homes who often spend the majority of the time in bed or a chair are at increased risk of bedsores.

However, there are some very basic steps that any facility personnel should be following to prevent bedsores. These include: keeping patients clean and dry; washing their skin gently and protecting it with moisturizing cream; ensuring that clothing fits well and that there are no buttons, zippers or seams in pressure areas; and appropriate cleaning after a patient goes to the bathroom. There are also positioning techniques staff can use with patients in wheelchairs or in their beds.

But if these basic practices are getting overlooked and leading to bedsores, it may also be worth asking: Is my relative getting his or her medications correctly? Are meals being prepared with due care for hygiene? If concerns like bedsores, over or under medicating, malnutrition, and others continue to arise, it may be time to consider consulting a legal professional.

Source: MedlinePlus, “Preventing pressure ulcers,” accessed on June 19, 2015