Can Bedsores Lead to Death?

Sad elderly woman in nursing home

Can bedsores cause death? The short answer is yes. Bedsores are skin lesions that typically develop on bony parts of the body with soft tissue. They can cause infection for nursing home residents and other people who spend most of their time in bed or in a wheelchair.

If left untreated, the infection can cause sepsis, which can lead to multiple organ failure and, eventually, death. Other complications may include damage to deep wound tissue, urinary tract infection, septic shock, osteomyelitis, bacterial infection, gangrene, cellulitis, bone infections, joint infections, cancer and muscle spasms.

What is the likelihood of death from a bedsore?

According to the AHRQ, more than 60,000 people die every year because of bedsore complications. That averages about one person every nine minutes.

In cases where bedsore complications cause death, more than 55 percent of nursing home residents perish within six weeks from the onset of the pressure sore. Further, nursing home residents with infected pressure injuries for more than six months have a 75 percent mortality rate.

Those who are 64 years old or older are at higher risk of developing bedsores and subsequently dying from complications due to them. This is especially true for those who have preexisting circulatory, pulmonary or renal problems. Poor nutrition also increases the likelihood of death due to bedsore complications.

What are bedsores?

Bedsores are also called decubitus ulcers, or pressure ulcers. They appear on the surface of the skin because of prolonged pressure. Bedridden or wheelchair-bound people are most likely to develop them.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), more than 2.5 million people in the United States develop pressure ulcers each year. However, they are treatable if they are recognized in their early stages. Wound care, wound healing and full recovery can take several months.

Stage 1 Bedsores

The skin remains intact and does not separate at stage 1. Discoloration may be present, along with tenderness and pain. Affected skin may seem cooler or warmer than the skin around it. If touched, the skin does not lighten like healthy skin.

Stage 2 Bedsores

During stage 2, some skin may be lost or damaged. The area will take on a yellowish or reddish color. It might resemble a blister. Stage 1 and stage 2 bedsores typically do not lead to death.

Stage 3 Bedsores

Stage 3 bedsores are deeply inset and often separate the skin, possibly exposing some adipose tissue. The affected area may look like a crater, and dead tissue may begin accumulating. Stage 3 bedsores do not cause death unless they exacerbate an underlying preexisting medical condition.

Stage 4 Bedsores

In stage 4, the pressure ulcer is marked by large-scale soft tissue loss. It penetrates healthy layers of skin. The skin may pull apart to expose bone or muscle tissue. In the deepest recesses of the open wound, the dead skin typically appears brownish-yellow.

If a bedsore is left untreated until it reaches stage 4, death is a possibility. Unfortunately, deaths due to untreated bedsores are far too common in nursing homes and other care facilities and this could potentially be a type of abuse due to negligence.

What causes bedsores in a nursing home?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 10 percent of nursing home patients suffer from bedsores at some point. While it is completely possible to recognize and treat bedsores in their early stages, substandard nursing home care may cause these pressure injuries to become life-threatening.

Bedsores occur because of consistent pressure on soft-tissue areas of the body. The pressure constricts blood vessels and restricts blood flow. Without adequate blood supply, the soft tissue in the area is deprived of vital nutrients contained in the blood. Over time, with continued pressure, restricted blood flow and a lack of nutrition, the soft tissue may suffer necrosis.

Bedsores may also originate from shearing friction between soft tissue and bed linens or wheelchair equipment. Repetitive rubbing and shifting can injure fragile skin.

Many nursing home residents have various risk factors for developing bedsores, including incontinence, immobility and general sensory deficiencies. Poor health, spinal cord injury, advanced age, malnutrition and anemia can also contribute to the formation of pressure sores.

What are the warning signs of bedsores?

Pressure ulcers typically are found on the tailbone, hips, shoulder blades, back, ankles and heels. These areas may display:

  • Redness
  • Tenderness
  • Inflammation
  • Pus-filled blisters
  • Dark-colored scabbing

If you notice your loved one or any other nursing home resident with signs of bedsores, report and find medical attention for that person right away.

How can you avoid bedsores in a nursing home?

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), caregivers can take several effective actions to prevent residents from developing bedsores.

To prevent pressure ulcers, nursing home staff should:

  • Use pressure-relieving mattresses and cushions
  • Reposition the body once hourly (ask for help)
  • Maintain the bed’s elevation at a maximum of 30 degrees
  • Physically inspect skin each day, looking for symptoms and signs of bedsores
  • Wash skin gently, pat skin dry and protect skin with moisturizing cream

The best way to prevent pressure ulcers is to keep the blood circulating. Daily inspections of the hips, back, tailbone, ankles and heels will go a long way toward detecting pressure sores early and avoiding future complications.

What to Do About Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing home staff members are professional caregivers who have been trained to prevent, detect and treat bedsores and serious infections. If these health care providers fail to do so, and the nursing home resident develops complications from a bedsore or even worse, a condition that leads to death, then the nursing home can be held liable. Nursing home abuse is a very serious matter.

Neglecting to treat decubitus ulcers can cause an elderly person financial, physical and emotional suffering, so it is important to be mindful of the quality of care that your loved one is receiving. If you suspect that the nursing staff may be neglecting their duties, it’s wise to schedule a free consultation with a seasoned personal injury lawyer who has experience with nursing home abuse and wrongful death claims.

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Patricia Shelton, MD

Picture of a woman smiling


  • University of Washington, Doctor of Medicine – MD. June 2008
  • University of Washington, Bachelor of Science – BS, Jun 2003


Neuroscience and Medicine


  • Dr. Shelton primarily writes content for health-related websites, but has also written test prep materials, white papers, published research articles, court documents, and more.
  • Dr. Shelton teaches anatomy and physiology at the college level for the National Institutes of Health.

Do You Need Help?

Legal Help

Icon of love

Nursing Home Abuse Should Have Consequences.

Fact Checked

Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.