Aspiration pneumonia occurs when food, liquids, vomit, or saliva enters the airway to the lungs instead of the esophagus to go to the stomach. This leads to inflammation or infection of the lungs or airway. Older adults who suffer aspiration pneumonia may require antibiotics. Some residents require hospitalization and may even need a ventilator to support their breathing. Some residents are not able to overcome this infection and do not recover.
Nursing homes are responsible to know each resident’s medical conditions. The physician will prescribe a diet that is safest for the resident to consume when they arrive at the nursing home. The doctor might even order diagnostic testing (such as a barium swallow study) or an evaluation by speech therapy to better understand the resident’s abilities to chew and swallow. The resident’s diet may change over time as the resident’s health improves or declines. It’s important that all staff members know the resident’s diet, so that the proper type of food can be provided. In many cases, staff members such as dietary servers, activity aides, nurses, or nursing assistants have provided a resident with a food type that is outside of their diet parameters. This puts the older adult at a greater risk of a nursing home choking death.
Staff who help to feed residents with swallowing disorders should be specially trained to feed these high-risk individuals. In addition, resident at risk for choking should be monitored closely by qualified staff members while eating. If choking occurs, nursing homes must have staff members on-site who are trained in the Heimlich maneuver and CPR.