According to Injury Facts 2015, choking is the No. 4 cause of unintentional injury deaths in 2011, right after falls, motor vehicle crashes and poisonings. Although choking is a risk for people of all ages, the number of these deaths peaked at age 84.
Although there are many items that could be cited in choking incidents (for children, it’s often toys or other basic household items), for the elderly, it most often tends to be food items. The CDC reports there are more than 460 choking deaths related to food among people over the age of 65 in a single year.
Some of the reasons why elderly may choke:
Their mouths are exceedingly dry. This could be due to reduced production of saliva as we age (which makes it nearly impossible to properly digest food) or because certain diseases such as dementia affect this basic function. Medications too can have an impact.
Beyond that, elderly people are often fed too quickly, particularly in nursing home settings. There is often a basic misunderstanding of how long it can take to chew and swallow food, especially if the person eating suffer from a medical condition that can make it difficult to swallow. Many elders have loose teeth that can also make it difficult to properly chew food. If dentures are not worn, some elders may swallow food whole if it isn’t properly cut up into small pieces.
When a person has problems swallowing, it’s called “dysphagia.” It’s a condition that affects about 20 percent of older adults, and in addition to choking hazards, it may be associated with:
- Malnutrition and dehydration
- Loss of appetite/ weight loss
- Less enjoyment eating
- Food entering the windpipe, leading to aspiration pneumonia
Some signs of dysphagia include:
- Pocketing food in one side of the mouth;
- Coughing while eating or drinking;
- Gurgly sound in the voice, especially after drinking or eating;
- Trouble swallowing fluid or food;
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports an estimated 500 people over the age of 65 die in nursing homes and long-term care facilities due to choking. Even a brief incident of choking, if it is not fatal, can result in significant brain damage. Our nursing home neglect lawyers know that often, these incidents are preventable. They occur because staffers rush patients who are eating, fail to follow dietary directives from physicians or simply are not paying attention while their patients eat.
A family in Illinois recently filed a negligence lawsuit against a nursing home there, alleging their 83-year-old patriarch choked on food because his food was not cut up into small enough pieces (as the doctor had directed) and he was not being supervised while he ate, which was required for his care plan. e reportedly died as a direct result of his choking. The family is seeking more than $50,000 in damages from the facility.
These kinds of lawsuits are not uncommon. In another recent case, a nursing home in Rancho Bernardo was fined $100,000 by the California Department of Public Health for failure to properly feed or supervise a dementia patient who was a known “compulsive food seeker.” He died in 2012 after choking when he put two whole pancakes and two whole sausage patties in his mouth at the same time.
If your loved one has suffered as a result of a choking incident at a nursing home, call us today to learn more about how we can help.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Choking Victim’s Children Say Nursing Home to Blame for Dad’s Death, Dec. 8, 2015, By Lauren Traut, Palos Patch
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Carmon-Rogers v. Sentara Life Care Corp. – $4 Million Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuit Goes to Trial, Dec. 10, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog