A pressure ulcer is an area of skin that breaks down when you stay in one position for too long without shifting your weight. This often happens if you use a wheelchair or you are bedridden, even for a short period of time (for example, after surgery or an injury). The constant pressure against the skin reduces the blood supply to that area, and the affected tissue dies.

A pressure ulcer starts as reddened skin but gets progressively worse, forming a blister, then an open sore, and finally a crater. The most common places for pressure ulcers are over bony prominences (bones close to the skin) like the elbow, heels, hips, ankles, shoulders, back, and the back of the head.

McKnight’s had a recent note about the most recent study analyzing the data of pressure ulcers in nursing homes.  More than one in 10 nursing home residents had a pressure ulcer in 2004, according to newly released statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report proves widespread neglect related to wound care.  Roughly 159,000 nursing home residents—11% of the total—had some form of pressure ulcer. Stage two pressure ulcers were the most prevalent, the report found.   However, many nursing home employees have no training in wound care and do not know how to properly stage a pressure ulcer.  

Younger residents who experienced shorter lengths of stay also were more likely to have pressure ulcers.   This disproves the defense argument that "old" people get pressures ulcers and that they are "unavoidable".  

A total of 35% of those with pressure ulcers stage two or higher (more severe) received "special" wound care treatment, according to the CDC.   There were no significant differences in pressure ulcer rates between white and non-white residents, according to the report.

The report, "Pressure Ulcers Among Nursing Home Residents: United States, 2004," was released Wednesday.   Authors gathered data for the report from the 2004 National Nursing Home Survey, which sampled responses from more than 14,000 nursing home residents around the country. The CDC report can be found online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/upcoming.htm.

McKnight’s had an article about New Jersey passing a bill that would require nursing home operators to switch from regular mattresses to pressure-relief mattresses within three years.  No reason was given why the industry was given three years to replace the useless mattresses.  Operators would have to buy the more costly and effective mattresses when replacing older ones starting a year from the bill’s enactment.

“While pressure redistribution mattresses may cost more up front than the standard spring mattresses, we cannot put a price on the continued health and wellness of our state’s most vulnerable senior citizens,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen). “While these new mattresses alone won’t make bed sores an ailment of the past, they will greatly reduce the incidence of bed sores, and make their treatment much easier on the dedicated nursing home staff.”

Hopefully, the rest of the country will follow. Pressure relieving mattresses are one of the keys to preventing painful and potentially fatal pressure ulcers.


McKnight’s has an article about diabetes in the nursing home population. One out of every four residents over the age of 65 is diagnosed with diabetes, according to a new report from the Institute for the Future of Aging Services. Researchers analyzed data representing 1.32 million nursing home residents over age 65.

Among the findings: Non-white residents were twice as likely to have diabetes as white residents; diabetic residents were younger than their non-diabetic counterparts; and the prevalence of diabetes in U.S. nursing homes was higher in 2004 compared to previous years. IFAS is the applied research arm of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Those afflicted with the disease are at a greater risk for developing other conditions that can affect their quality of life and care needs, according to researchers. Diabetics are more likely to take more medication and arrive at a nursing home with pre-existing circulatory problems. Diabetics are also 56% more likely to have a pressure ulcer upon admittance. The research was published in the February 2008 issue of Diabetes Care. To view the report, please go to http://www.futureofaging.org.

This underscores the need for better nutritional assessments and interventions requiring getting blood work and lab results on a regular basis.  This also shows why preventative measures are needed to prevent skin breakdown.

The NY Times has an informative article on the multi-disciplinary approach needed to prevent pressure ulvers in nursing home residents. 

The article defines a pressure ulcer as an area of skin breakdown that occurs when sustained pressure cuts off blood circulation — usually in patients confined to their beds nursing homes — a bedsore can result in a wound so deep (sometimes to the bone) and painful that some patients require narcotics. If a bedsore becomes infected, the complications can be fatal.

Experts estimate that two million Americans suffer from pressure ulcers each year, usually through some combination of immobility, poor nutrition, dehydration and incontinence.  New research requires a team approach, enlisting everyone from nurses and nursing assistants to laundry workers, nutritionists, maintenance workers and even in-house beauticians.

In a study of a collaborative program involving 52 nursing homes around the country, The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported last August that team efforts had reduced the number of severe pressure ulcers acquired in-house by 69 percent. 

Dr. Joanne Lynn, who helped begin the project when she was a senior natural scientist with the RAND Corporation (she has since joined the Medicare centers), said the goal was to educate nursing home workers in bedsore prevention and to encourage them to come up with creative, low-tech solutions of their own. “It was a combination of education, cheerleading and something like systems engineering,” Dr. Lynn recalled.

Nutrition including additional protein, special mattresses made of high-density foam to reduce pressure in key areas, keeping feet elevated, repositioning frequently, keeping incontinent residents dry with routine changes, and proper fitting clothes are easy low tech solutions to preventing the developement or worsening of pressure ulcers. 

Clinicians document four stages of pressure ulcers, in which Stages 1 and 2 are superficial sores and Stages 3 and 4 are deep wounds that result from death of the skin and underlying tissues.

Dr. Horn, of the Institute for Clinical Outcomes Research, praised the collaborative as “the first major national effort driven by Medicare to reduce pressure ulcers.” But she said that better outcomes could be achieved if more nursing homes improved their documentation, so that all of the information on a given resident, including details on eating, urinary and bowel function, appeared on a single sheet, with key reminders to nursing assistants and other staff members about best practices.

Bedsores are “a major quality-of-life issue, and a self-esteem issue,” said Joanie Jones, a nurse at David Place in Nebraska. “No one wants to have sores on their bottom. I don’t care how old you are. You still want your skin intact.”

We have numerous cases where a resident suffered horrible painful pressure ulcers because of the lack of preventative treatment.  The nursing homes always claim that the pressure ulcers were "unavoidable" due to the age of the resident.  A new comprehensive study disproves that claim.

This article discusses the purpose and success of preventing pressure ulcers from forming when nursing homes provide preventative care.

The Pressure Ulcer Collaborative project had been aiming for a 25 percent reduction in new occurrences of bedsores by encouraging health workers to use proven strategies to prevent skin deterioration.  Instead, the 150 hospitals, nursing homes and home health care agencies participating reduced new bedsores on average by just over 70 percent between September 2005 and May 2007.

Bedsores, technically known as pressure ulcers, are painful, occasionally deadly skin lesions caused by unrelieved pressure  that can cause infection and destroy tissue, muscle and bone if not properly treated.  They also can trigger depression, affect a patient’s self-image and complicate treatment.

At the beginning of the New Jersey project, 18 percent of newly admitted patients developed a bedsore while receiving care. By the end, the rate had been cut to 5 percent of new patients, Holmes said.

Holmes said the preventive steps started with a prompt evaluation of each new patient, with every square inch of their skin examined and their risk of developing bedsores determined based on a standardized scale.

Hospitals then had to follow strategies to prevent development of bedsores. Options included shifting the patient to a new position every two hours, use of heel cushions and other padding for vulnerable pressure points, even use of special air mattresses that alternately inflate and deflate different areas, spreading pressure around.

Patients not eating or drinking enough water _ a common problem with older patients _ got a nutritional consultation because inadequate caloric intake or protein stores, as well as dehydration, can lead to skin tearing and breaking down.  Frequent follow-up examinations of the skin also were required, along with new ones for patients suddenly bedridden, as after surgery.


15. Treatment of Pressure Ulcers
Treatment of Pressure Ulcers
Clinical Guideline Number 15
AHCPR Publication No. 95-0652: December 1994

The incidence of pressure ulcers is sufficiently high, especially among certain high-risk groups, to warrant concern among health care providers. These groups include elderly patients admitted to the hospital for femoral fracture (66-percent incidence) and critical care patients (33-percent incidence). In addition, the prevalence of pressure ulcers in skilled care facilities and nursing homes is reported to be as high as 23 percent. An extensive study of acute care facilities reported a prevalence of 9.2 percent, and in one study of quadriplegic patients the prevalence was 60 percent.

Because prevention of this debilitating condition is believed to be less costly than its treatment, the panel initially produced a guideline entitled, Pressure Ulcers in Adults: Prediction and Prevention. Clinical Practice Guideline, No. 3. Although it is certainly desirable to prevent pressure ulcers, individuals still enter the health care system with ulcers or develop ulcers during periods of increased vulnerability as their physical condition deteriorates. This guideline addresses the treatment of pressure ulcers. It is intended for clinicians who examine and treat persons with pressure ulcers, and the treatment recommendations focus on (1) assessment of the patient and pressure ulcer, (2) tissue load management, (3) ulcer care, (4) management of bacterial colonization and infection, (5) operative repair, and (6) education and quality improvement.

AHCPR appointed an external panel of multidisciplinary experts in this field to develop the guideline. To provide a scientific basis for this guideline, the panel conducted comprehensive literature searches, reviewed more than 45,000 abstracts, evaluated approximately 1,700 papers, and cited 333 references to support this guideline.

The panel solicited input from a broad array of organizations and individuals. Testimony was provided by interested parties at a public forum on April 9, 1992, in Washington, DC. A draft of the guideline was distributed to and analyzed by participants at a conference sponsored by the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel and the Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society in March 1993. The Treatment of Pressure Ulcers Guideline Panel also invited peer review by individual experts, professional organizations, consumers, and Government regulatory agencies. Health care agencies conducted pilot reviews to evaluate the clinical applicability of the guideline. In all, more than 400 reviewers have critiqued various drafts of this guideline.

This first edition of Treatment of Pressure Ulcers will be periodically revised and updated as needed so that future editions reflect new research findings and experience with emerging technologies and innovative approaches. To this end, the panel welcomes comments and suggestions regarding the current guideline. Please send written comments to Director, Office of the Forum for Quality and Effectiveness in Health Care, AHCPR, 6000 Executive Boulevard, Suite 310, Rockville, MD 20852.
Treatment of Pressure Ulcers Guideline Panel

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Pressure Ulcers

Also referred to as decubitus ulcers or bed sores, these are lesions caused by unrelieved pressure resulting in damage to underlying tissue. Pressure ulcers usually occur over a bony prominence such as the sacrum or heel, and are staged to classify the degree of tissue damage1. The risk for pressure ulcer development is increased for the person who is immobile and confined to a bed or chair. Pressure ulcers are classified into four categories, depending upon their severity, and are generally caused by unrelieved pressure on the bodies soft tissue.

In addition to pressure, the forces of friction and shear may contribute to wound development in the patient who is malnourished, incontinent, insensate and/or cognitively impaired. Assessment tools, such as the Norton2 or Braden3 tools, assist the clinician to identify patient factors that increase the risk for pressure ulcer development. Appropriate interventions and resources can then be targeted to intervene and reduce patient risks of pressure ulcer development or recurrence.

1. European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel. Pressure Ulcer Treatment Guidelines
2. Norton, D., McLaren, R., Exton-Smith, A.N. (1962) An investigation of geriatric nursing problems in hospital. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone
3. Bergstrom N., Braden, B. Lazuzza, A. (1987) The Braden scale for predicting pressure sore risk. Nurs Res; 36:4, 205-210

Information provided with support from the Wound Healing Research Unit, Cardiff