Choking Deaths in Georgia Nursing Homes » What You Need to Know

Choking deaths are a major problem in nursing homes and many times, an avoidable problem. Some nursing home residents have impairments such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and require assistance while eating. Other patients require a special diet due to dental issues or trouble swallowing. Choking and suffocation are one of the leading causes of deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and many times those deaths are a result of inadequate staffing that leads to neglect.

Why Do Choking Accidents Happen in Nursing Homes?

There’s a multitude of reasons why an elderly or disabled person might choke to death while in the care of nursing home staff.  Many times, it’s due to negligence from the nursing home that stems from issues such as understaffing, poor supervision of residents, or defective intake practices.

Below is a list of reasons why a nursing home resident might choke.

  • Dysphagia – The act of swallowing requires several steps that include the brain, nerves, and muscles. Once the brain decides to swallow, the food goes from the mouth to the throat and the pharynx opens, which allows the food to enter the esophagus while the trachea is closed to prevent food from entering airways. Once food is in the esophagus, it contracts, and the food is propelled into the stomach. Multiple diseases can interrupt this process and cause dysphagia (swallowing problems) including strokes, esophageal narrowing, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, dementia, cancer, or simply aging
  • Choking hazards such as hard candy or food that’s difficult to chew
  • Drinking fluids with food in the mouth, especially bread which can expand in the throat
  • Eating too fast
  • Lying down while eating
  • Dental issues or dentures
  • Poorly cut foods

Negligence that leads to food suffocation may include:

  • Understaffing
  • Lack of supervision
  • Poor intake process (not interviewing or examining residents thoroughly prior to intake)
  • Not working with pathologists for swallowing studies
  • Inadequate or poorly trained staff
  • Failing to follow specific dietary restrictions for residents (giving them the wrong meal)
  • A badly managed kitchen or poor food preparation
    • Bones in chicken or pork
    • Big chunks of food
    • Hard foods like pizza crust or popcorn
    • Dry foods like crackers or rice cakes
    • Thick or sticky foods like peanut butter and bread
  • Medication errors

Elderly Choking Death Statistics

A study posted on researchgate.net reveals that from 2007 to 2010 2,214 people older than 65 died in the U.S. from choking on food. The death rate for choking is higher in the elderly than any other age group. The other three top conditions were heart disease, dementia, and diabetes. Researches estimated the expected joint frequency of other causes and discovered that dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, and pneumonitis (inflammation of lung tissue) are most strongly associated with choking deaths among the elderly.

The data also shows that nursing homes or other long-term care facilities are the second leading place of injury for deaths associated with accidental food suffocation or choking.

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Malfunctioning Breathing Tubes

A clogged or malfunctioning breathing tube can also cause a nursing home resident to suffocate. Nursing homes are responsible for monitoring and cleaning breathing tubes. Residents with breathing tubes require increased attention and nursing homes are responsible for providing proper care and supervision. If not monitored closely, a breathing tube may become clogged and choking or suffocation can occur.

Insufficient Training

Nursing homes should train their staff to handle emergency situations properly, including choking incidents. This includes CPR and other life-saving measures. Nursing Homes are also responsible for hiring qualified staff. One of the fastest growing forms of elder abuse is staff neglect, which is when employees of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities fail to provide the basic required needs of its residents. The Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) requires nursing home facilities provide the highest quality of care for the mental, physical, and psychosocial wellbeing of residents. This includes proper training for staff. Understaffed nursing homes may lead to new staff being hired too quickly without background checks or adequate training. When you have inexperienced employees without enough training, this puts nursing home residents at risk.

We prosecute nursing homes and long-term care facilities for nursing home abuse and neglect. We have a long history of getting results for our clients and have recovered millions for nursing home residents, and their families, who have suffered abuse or neglect at the hands of someone they should have been able to trust.

If your loved one choked in a nursing home, contact us today for a free consultation. You shouldn’t have to face this alone, and the nursing home should be held accountable. We have offices in Atlanta, Athens, and Lake Oconee and there is no fee unless we win your case. Contact us by phone at 706-354-4000 or fill out the case review form at the bottom of the page.

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