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Why Bed Sores are so Serious And How to Prevent Them

separator It’s hard to understand how something as common as a sore can be the cause of death for people who are paralyzed or confined to their beds for long periods of time. Complications due to a bed sore were what caused the death of Christopher Reeve. This was difficult for many people to comprehend. Reeve had been getting state-of-the-art therapies for paralysis for years, and it seemed like every time you turned around, he had reached a new milestone. How could a sore have killed him?

In fact, bed sores have remained one of the most frustrating aspects of care for people with paralysis. The sores, also called pressure ulcers, affect more than one third of the people who have spinal cord injuries. Complications from these sores kill about 60,000 Americans per year.

Bed sores develop when there’s continuous pressure on the skin for a long period of time. Blood fails to reach the place in the body that’s receiving the pressure. If the pressure is not relieved, the tissue of the skin can become infected and die. The dead tissue then breaks down, often creating a deep, open wound. Sometimes the wound is so deep that it penetrates all the layers of the skin and reaches the bone. Common areas of the body where bed sores develop include the buttocks and the heels.

Research indicates that the incidence of bed sores is increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2003, one-third of people with spinal cord injuries developed bed sores, compared with 23 percent in 1990.

Researchers from the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Southern California and the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center recommend the following steps to patients and caregivers to help reduce the risk of bed sores:

  • Check your whole body every day for red patches, especially on the buttocks and heels.
  • Work with an occupational therapist to develop a plan that balances work, rest and leisure time. Discuss how you will manage the balance if a sore develops.
  • Change position every hour to relieve pressure.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and get enough rest.
  • Tell your doctor right away if you see a red patch.
  • If you do develop a bed sore, it’s important to take time off to rest in bed and keep all pressure off the area.

It’s important to keep bed sore management and avoidance in mind pretty much all the time. You day-to-day decisions about how you spend your time should always take bed sore risk reduction into account. Remember not to stay in one position too long when you’re working, for example, even though it can be easy to “get lost” in your work and forget to move. And above all, don’t let embarrassment stop you from treating a bed sore. Early detection and treatment is essential to preventing the serious infection that can develop if bed sores are caught too late.

The American Occupational Therapy Association; Department of Veterans Affairs; National Spinal Cord Injury Association;
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