Is aspiration pneumonia a sign of nursing home neglect?

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The general public may be unfamiliar with aspiration pneumonia, but this is a serious illness that can compromise a senior's fragile health. If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia, this may be a sign of nursing home neglect. Aspiration pneumonia in nursing homes

About Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that occurs when food gets caught in the airway. The lungs become inflamed as bacteria grows. Signs of aspiration pneumonia include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Bad breath
  • Constant coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing food
  • Fatigue
  • Disorientation
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Blue skin discoloration

Aspiration pneumonia can be diagnosed with a chest X-ray, CT scan, blood test, sputum culture, and/or barium swallow. Patients can be treated with antibiotics to kill the infection and steroids to reduce swelling in the lungs. Extra oxygen may be needed during the recovery process.

Complications of aspiration pneumonia can include:

  • Lung abscess
  • Empyema, a condition where pus collects inside the lungs
  • Bronchiectasis, a compensatory thickening of the insides of the lungs due to chronic inflammation
  • Increased risk of future episodes of pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia can be fatal if the condition is not properly treated.

Aspiration Pneumonia Among Nursing Home Residents

Most healthy people can cough up food, liquids, or saliva from their lungs with no problems. However, aspiration pneumonia is a common illness in nursing homes. Nursing home residents at risk for aspiration pneumonia include:

  • Alzheimer's patients
  • Stroke patients
  • People with cognitive impairments
  • People with conditions that limit their ability to chew or swallow food
  • People using feeding tubes
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who often take sedative medications
  • Individuals with a history of smoking, alcohol use, and/or IV drug use

Care providers who work with elderly individuals are taught a number of safety precautions to reduce the risk of aspiration pneumonia. These include:

  • Serving soft foods and thickened liquids that are easier to swallow
  • Having residents sit up while they eat or tilting the bed of bedridden patients to a 30- to 40-degree angle for mealtimes
  • Having residents take small bites, eat slowly, and swallow with their head down
  • Encouraging proper dental care to kill bacteria in the mouth that can cause infections

In the vast majority of cases, aspiration pneumonia is a preventable condition. If a resident is determined to be at high risk for developing aspiration pneumonia, there should be a care plan in place to take all appropriate safety precautions.

Aspiration Pneumonia and Nursing Home Neglect

Aspiration pneumonia is not automatically considered a sign of nursing home neglect, but it can be an indication that an elderly resident is not receiving proper care. The condition can suggest:

  • Lack of proper supervision while feeding
  • Understaffing
  • Inattentive or inexperienced staff
  • Failure to monitor a resident's health and seek prompt medical treatment

If you believe your loved one may be a victim of nursing home neglect, you should first discuss your concerns with the facility administrator. If the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, an experienced nursing home abuse attorney can help you take legal action.

A nursing home neglect claim can include compensation for medical expenses related to care of aspiration pneumonia and associated complications as well as pain and suffering. Punitive damages, while not awarded in all cases, could also be received if there is a pattern of particularly severe neglect and disregard for the safety of elderly people left in the care of the nursing home.

If your loved one has died as the result of aspiration pneumonia, you may be able to receive compensation for funeral and burial costs and the loss of your loved one's care and companionship.

Neblett, Beard & Arsenault's legal team has extensive experience helping Louisiana residents obtain justice for their loved ones who have suffered harm due to nursing home neglect or abuse. Cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis, which allows to you obtain quality legal representation without worrying about out-of-pocket payments. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.588.6303 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.


William S. Neblett
Attorney William Neblett practices personal injury, maritme, medical malpractice and nursing home abuse law.