Is choking a sign of nursing home neglect?

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The National Safety Council reports that choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death, with over half of all victims being more than 74 years of age. Countless other cases result in permanent cognitive impairment. Choking and nursing home neglect

If your loved one has suffered a choking-related accident in a nursing home, this may be considered a form of nursing home neglect. As such, compensation may be available.

Risk Factors for Choking Among Nursing Home Residents

To some extent, it's normal for people to have trouble swallowing food as they age. This is due to the continued wear and tear associated with daily use of the throat muscles. However, a number of other conditions can also cause problems with choking while eating, including:

  • Dementia
  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lou Gehrig's Disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer-associated radiation treatment

Having dentures or being diagnosed with dysphagia (the medical term for difficulty swallowing) also increases the risk of choking in nursing home residents.

Choking-Related Injuries

Choking is dangerous because it affects the flow of air to the lungs. Choking can be partial or complete, with someone who is partially choking having limited air flow and someone who is completely choking receiving no oxygen at all.

A choking episode that is quickly treated may result in no permanent harm. However, if the brain goes just two minutes without enough oxygen, permanent brain damage can result. In three minutes without treatment, choking can be fatal.

Choking Prevention and Treatment

A nursing home is legally responsible for providing a safe environment for residents who are unable to properly care for themselves. When a senior is known to be at risk for choking, preventative measures must be taken to minimize the danger.

The risk of choking can be reduced in the following ways:

  • Providing close supervision during mealtime or assistance with feeding
  • Serving food that is soft and easy to swallow
  • Making sure food is cut into very small pieces
  • Changing a senior's position to reduce the risk of choking
  • Implementing a pureed diet
  • Initiating a feeding tube

When someone is coughing forcefully after eating, encouraging continued coughing is often enough to stop an episode of choking. However, when the person is unable to cough, speak, or breathe, immediate attention is necessary. The Heimlich maneuver can be performed until the food is expelled. If the person becomes unresponsive, he should be lowered to the ground for CPR.

Proving Nursing Home Neglect

Although some cases of choking-related injuries do qualify as tragic accidents, many are due to negligence. Untrained, inattentive, or overworked staff may fail to provide the necessary supervision and precautionary measures required by law.

To prove that choking is related to nursing home neglect, you must establish the following:

  • The nursing home owed the senior a duty of care.
  • The nursing home breached the duty of care to the senior by doing something it shouldn't have done or failing to take basic safety precautions to prevent choking.
  • The senior suffered harm as a result of this breach of duty.

Evidence used in a nursing home neglect case may include medical records, testimony from staff, testimony from family members, expert witnesses, and/or surveillance video.

Types of Compensation Available

A nursing home neglect case can include compensation for the cost of medical treatment related to the incident, physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental pain and suffering. If the choking incident results in a fatality, a wrongful death suit can be filed to seek compensation for medical expenses up to the time of death, funeral and burial costs, and loss of companionship. When the conduct forming the basis of the suit shows extreme negligence, punitive damages may also be awarded.

Seeking Legal Representation

Nursing home neglect cases can be quite complex, which means that skilled legal representation is a must. The attorneys at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault are committed to helping Louisiana residents receive justice for a loved one who has been harmed as the result of nursing home neglect. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.


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