Assisted Living Facility choking deaths are all too common.  Many residents have reduced swallowing functions or suffer dementia that can lead directly to Assisted Living Facility choking deaths.  From the years 2007 to 2010, there were over 2000 deaths from choking on food among people over the age of 65 years old.  Choking blocks the flow of oxygen to the brain, which can result in severe brain damage or even death.  Choking occurs in facilities across the country:

Just like choking deaths at nursing homes, it is important to learn about Assisted Living Facility choking deaths so they can be prevented.

How Does Swallowing Work?

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Swallowing is a complex function that requires about 50 pairs of nerves and muscles to work effectively.  Swallowing is broken down into three stages:

  • The first phase (the oral phase) is where food is prepared in the mouth for swallowing.  In this stage, food is moved around with the tongue and jaw to position food for chewing.  The food is broken down into an easier-to-swallow form from the chewing and from the introduction of saliva.
  • The next phase  (the pharyngeal phase) is where the tongue pushes the liquid or food to the back of the mouth which triggers the swallowing response.  From here, the food or liquid goes down the throat (pharynx).  During this passage, the voice box (larynx) closes and breathing is stopped in order to prevent liquid or food from moving into the lungs.
  • The last phase (esophageal phase) begins when the swallowed liquid or food arrives at the food channel (esophagus).  The esophagus carries the liquid or food to the stomach.

What Swallowing Issues Lead to Assisted Living Facility Choking Deaths?

Swallowing issues (also called dysphagia) can be caused by a number of sources, such as:

  • diseases affecting the nervous system (e.g. parkinson’s disease);
  • head trauma, stroke or brain injury, which can affect coordination of the component muscles and nerves responsible for effective swallowing;
  • cancers to the head, neck or esophagus;
  • injuries or surgeries to the neck, chest or head;
  • mental decline (such as dementia, memory loss or confusion).

Unsurprisingly, many residents are at risk for assisted living facility choking deaths due to advanced age.  In fact, swallowing issues are particularly high in assisted living facilities, where up to 40% to 60% of residents are reported to have difficulties eating and drinking normally.  Even worse, 80% of individuals suffering advance dementia have dysphagia.

When a resident suffers from swallowing issues, they may need specific diets and supervision to avoid serious injury.  In fact, when untreated, a resident with dysphagia may die from aspirational pneumonia and/or respiratory failure.

What Diet Does My Loved One Need to Minimize the Risk of Assisted Living Facility Choking Deaths?

The dysphagia diet is graded from Level 1 to Level 4.  Level 1 is the most restrictive diet and is appropriate for residents with the weakest swallowing function.

Level 1 Diet:

  • Pureed breads (also called “pre-gelled” breads)
  • Smooth puddings, custards, yogurts, and pureed desserts
  • Pureed fruits and well-mashed bananas
  • Pureed meats
  • Pureed vegetables without lumps, chunks, or seeds

Level 2 Diet

  • Thickened liquids
  • Moist soft foods that need some chewing

Level 3 Diet

  • Thickened Liquids
  • Moist foods cut into bite-sized pieces that need more chewing

Level 4 Diet

  • all foods are okay

Can Proper Staffing Prevent Assisted Living Facility Choking Deaths?

Under-staffing is a major cause of abuse and negligence at assisted living facilities.  Facilities will take on residents (even if they do not belong at an ALF) and will not hire enough staff to care for them.  This increases the profit margins at assisted living facilities, but can lead to awful results such as assisted living facility choking deaths.

If appropriately staffed, Certified Nursing Assistant’s (CNA’s) can watch over residents with dysphagia while they eat.  Proper supervision can help prevent assisted living facility choking deaths by:

  • ensuring that a resident is eating with good posture (such as sitting at a 90 degree angle to help swallowing)
  • alternating between foods or liquids to increase the ease of swallowing
  • checking that a resident has completely chewed and swallowed food before putting more food in their mouth
  • supervising a resident to make sure they do not accidentally eat inappropriate foods given their diet level

What Should I Do to Seek Justice for an Assisted Living Facility Choking Death?

If a loved one suffered an assisted living facility choking death, it is important to seek justice.  Sadly, many residents who die from choking at an ALF never are able to seek justice because the abuse and neglect goes unreported.  Therefore, when you seek justice for your loved one, you are also seeking justice for those who never had the opportunity to confront the assisted living facility for their wrongful death.  When bringing a lawsuit related to an assisted living facility choking death, it is imperative that you choose attorneys who focus on elder abuse litigation.  Senior Justice Law Firm focuses primarily on fighting abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities.  Call today to discuss your potential case, free of charge, at 561-717-0817.