What are bedsores and how do we prevent it?
Bedsores — also called pressure ulcers and decubitus ulcers — are built up damages to the skin and underlying tissue resulting from sustained pressure. Bedsores most often develop on skin that covers bony areas of the body, such as the heels, ankles, hips and tailbone. Other areas include back of head, shoulders, thighs and buttocks. Prolonged pressure on these areas leads to poor blood circulation, followed by cell death, skin breakdown, and the development of an open wound – bedsores / pressure ulcer.
The first signs of developing bedsores are commonly redness and irritation of the skin. People most at risk of developing bedsores are those with a medical condition that limits their ability to change positions, for example, a paraplegia, quadriplegia, bedridden or comatose patients, weak elders who prefer to lie in bed and injured individuals who are confined to a wheelchair.
In layman’s terms, when a person stays in a certain position for a long period of time without shifting their weight, pressure sets on the soft tissues and blood flow becomes partially or in severe cases, completely blocked causing the area to deteriorate and becomes an open wound (bedsore). But with the right treatment and care, bedsores can be prevented or treated before it worsens.
Warning signs of pressure ulcers are
- Unusual changes in skin colour or texture
- Pus-like draining
- An area of skin that feels cooler or warmer compared to other areas
- Tender areas
Ways to prevent Bedsores (Pressure Ulcers):
1. Repositioning – Changing your body’s position over a period of time changes the pressure points on the body, thereby improving the patient’s blood circulation to the areas at risk. If a bedridden patient is unable to move by themselves, a caregiver should reposition them every two hours or so and wheelchair users should reposition every 15 minutes or so.
2. Special Support Surfaces – A ripple mattress is an alternating air mattress that relieves pressure on bedridden or comatose patients. Air is automatically pumped into two divided sections separately every 5 minutes to change pressure points helping to promote blood circulation. For wheelchair bound users, it is advisable to use an air cushion that will spread the pressure throughout the cushion.
3. Keep Skin Clean & Dry – Ensure the patient has clean and dried skin at all times because bedsore are less likely to develop that way. Clean any incontinence or perspiration on the skin with a warm cloth with mild soap. A caregiver should assist to clean and they can also check for any signs of bedsores at hard-to-reach spots. Then, pat their skin dry with a towel. Avoid rubbing the skin too hard as it can lead to skin irritation.
4. Use pillows – When a patient is positioned to lie sideways, normally their ankles and knees will press againt each other and can be uncomfortable for the body. Placing a pillow in between their legs will not only provide comfort but will also prevent bedsores in their ankles and knees.
5. Exercise – Mild stretching such as palm stretching, arms and leg lifting on the bed is enough to encourage blood circulation. If the patient is unable to perform exercises themselves, a trained caregiver or a physiotherapist should assist.
If you ever notice bedsores on your loved one, you should seek medical attention first and have a doctor or nurse assess the stage of the wound before applying treatment. Ignoring the problem will only cause further medical complications such as cellulitis, bone and joint infections, sepsis and in worse case scenerios, death.