You’ve probably heard of gangrene, but most people wouldn’t recognize it when they saw it for the first time – until the symptoms are so serious that the condition is likely to lead to amputation or death.
Unfortunately, gangrene can and does happen to seniors in nursing care, and it’s often a sign of serious problems with their care.
What is gangrene, and what causes it?
Gangrene is the term used to describe dead and rotting bodily tissue. It is caused either by a lack of blood flow to the affected body parts (which is why it often affects the victim’s extremities) or a serious bacterial infection. The affected skin can be deeply discolored, painful, foul-smelling, cold to the touch and have swelling, blisters or a discharge.
While gangrene can be caused by acute trauma, it can also be caused by something like bed sores that have been left untreated or exposure to extreme cold.
Older adults are particularly vulnerable to conditions like gangrene in their hands, feet, fingers, toes and genitals when they already suffer from medical problems like diabetes, atherosclerosis and obesity. Poor hygiene – which is something that no one in a nursing home should have to worry about – is another factor that can increase the chances of gangrene developing.
Can gangrene be treated?
Treatment for gangrene is often slow and painful. It generally requires high-powered antibiotics, oxygen treatment, surgical debridement of the dead tissue and even amputation of the affected body parts. For someone who is elderly or already in poor health, gangrene can also lead to sepsis, which is a potentially fatal blood infection.
Let’s be clear about this: If your loved one develops gangrene while they’re in a nursing home, you need to suspect neglect on the part of the facility and its staff.