Bedsores (also known as pressure ulcers or pressure sores) are localized areas of damaged tissue caused by staying in one position for too long. They tend to form in areas where bones and skin are close together, such as the hips, elbows, ankles, and back, and present a constant threat to individuals who are bedridden, use a wheelchair, or go about their days without significantly changing their position.

If left untreated, pressure sores can become infected – a prospect that is made all the more dangerous for the elderly, who may already have compromised immune systems.

What, exactly, causes pressure sores? Constant pressure on skin (exerted by a wheelchair seat, for example) is the most common culprit; it reduces blood supply to the area, and can cause the skin to break down and form an open sore. Sliding down or across a bed or chair can prove equally dangerous, as is an improper moisture balance in the skin; if skin is too wet or too dry, it’s more prone to develop ulcers.

Bedsores are serious, but luckily, they’re also preventable. If you’re caring for a person who may be at risk, here are some tips to ensure that the problem never arises.

Med Air Variable Pressure Pump and Pad System
  • Change lying or sitting positions every few hours.

    Physicians recommend that people who use a wheelchair shift position within their chair every 15 minutes; bedridden people should change position at least once every two hours. To prevent shearing due to friction or gravity, consider purchasing a protective gel overlay for your mattress. You can also try an egg crate mattress topper or an alternating pressure mattress system. Alternating pressure systems feature a pump that inflate and deflate an air mattress, which helps to prevent constant pressure on the body.

  • Perform skin assessments daily and before repositioning.

    If the individual uses any type of medical equipment that is in direct contact with the skin (such as oxygen or catheter tubing), make sure to inspect those areas. Next, move down the front of the body and inspect bony prominences, such as elbows, knees, and ankles. Have the patient move onto their side, and examine the back as well. If you encounter any areas of discoloration or redness, document their location and notify your doctor.

  • Make sure the patient is wearing appropriate clothing.

    Loose, comfortable clothing is preferable for immobile individuals, as it is less likely to rub up against sheets or seats. Tight-fitting clothes may exacerbate an existing sore, or improve the chances of another one developing. Avoid clothes with thick seams, buttons, or zippers that can press on your skin.

  • Keep skin clean and dry.

    It’s imperative to make sure sensitive areas are kept clean and dry at all times, especially in areas where moisture may gather (such as under the breasts or in the groin). After using the bathroom, clean and dry area immediately and meticulously. Apply moisturizing cream and skin protectants each day.

  • If necessary, support the patient with decubitus pads and bed wedges.

    If a patient is on his or her side, place a rolling pillow behind him to prevent them from falling back into a supine position. If the elbows are beginning to become irritated, place a pillow underneath them to increase the distance between the tissue and the hard surface. Decubitus pads, such as this one made from natural sheepskin, can provide additional, much-needed support.

There are a variety of products specifically designed to banish bedsores and ensure peace of mind for you and your loved ones. By staying diligent and maintaining a strong relationship with you (or your family’s) primary healthcare providers, bedrest need not translate into misery!