Improving Circulation in Bed-Bound Patients Vital to Maintain Quality of Life

Enhancing circulation in bed-bound patients is vital to prevent serious health issues and to promote tissue health and recovery, improving their overall quality of life. Consistent attention to circulatory health also supports overall well-being, significantly enhancing the quality of life.

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Improving Circulation in Bed-Bound Patients Vital to Maintain Quality of Life
9 Min Read November 3rd, 2023

Ensuring proper blood circulation is crucial for bed-bound patients, particularly for older residents in long-term care facilities, as it plays a vital role in maintaining overall health and minimizing complications. When individuals are confined to a bed for extended periods, they are at risk for a host of health issues, including pressure ulcers, blood clots, and muscle atrophy. 

By prioritizing measures to improve circulation, caregivers and medical professionals can significantly enhance the quality of life for these patients and reduce the likelihood of severe health complications.

The continuous flow of blood throughout the body, known as circulation, is essential for transporting oxygen and nutrients to tissues and organs, as well as for eliminating waste materials. For individuals confined to a bed because of sickness, injury, or other medical conditions, sustaining adequate circulation can be a significant challenge. Inadequate blood flow can lead to various health issues, including pressure ulcers, blood clots, and even more serious conditions such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Explore strategies to enhance circulation in bed-bound individuals to reduce the risk of these complications.

Why Do People Become Bed-Bound

There are various reasons why individuals at home or in long-term care facilities may become bed-bound or experience limited mobility. These reasons often stem from a combination of medical conditions, age-related decline, and sometimes the side effects of treatments or medications.

One of the primary causes of immobility in long-term care settings is the presence of chronic medical conditions. Diseases such as advanced Parkinson’s, severe arthritis, or late-stage dementia can significantly impair a person’s ability to move independently. Stroke victims may also experience paralysis or severe weakness in certain parts of their bodies, rendering them bed-bound. These medical conditions often lead to muscle atrophy and joint stiffness, further exacerbating immobility.

Age-related decline is another significant factor. As people age, their muscles will naturally weaken and lose mass, and their bones become more fragile. This weakening can make it difficult for older adults to maintain mobility, even with assistance. Additionally, the fear of falling and sustaining injuries can make them more reluctant to engage in physical activity, leading to a cycle of immobility.

Sometimes, the treatments and medications designed to manage chronic conditions can have side effects contributing to immobility. For example, certain medications may cause dizziness, drowsiness, or muscle weakness, impairing a care recipient's ability to move safely. Bed rest might be prescribed after surgeries or serious medical events. While necessary for recovery, extended periods of immobility can lead to muscle wasting and decreased functional ability.

Furthermore, psychological factors such as depression and anxiety prevalent in long-term care settings can contribute to immobility. Individuals suffering from these conditions may lack the motivation to engage in physical activity, leading to prolonged periods in bed.

Families, caregivers, and health professionals in long-term care facilities must understand these contributing factors and work collaboratively to encourage and facilitate mobility in residents, wherever possible. Loved ones should pay special attention to be sure their loved one receives the proper care. 

Health Issues of Bed-Bound Individuals 

One of the most prevalent risks for bed-bound patients is the development of pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores. These painful lesions occur when there is prolonged pressure on one part of the body, restricting blood flow to the area and leading to tissue damage. Regular repositioning of the patient is crucial to alleviate pressure and improve blood flow to different parts of the body. Additionally, the use of specialized mattresses and cushions can help distribute weight more evenly and reduce the risk of pressure ulcers.

Maegan Wagner, BSN, RN, CCM, writing in Nurse Together, says older adults confined to bed, those with limited mobility, individuals unable to communicate pain or discomfort, and patients with chronic conditions like diabetes or vascular diseases are at a higher risk for pressure ulcers, but it can be preventable.

Pressure ulcers are preventable through thorough assessment and intervention. This is the priority goal as once a pressure ulcer occurs; it can be difficult to treat and heal. Pressure ulcers that do not respond to simple wound care may require debridement, negative pressure therapy, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, wound vacs, and surgery.

Blood clots are another serious concern for bed-bound patients, particularly in the legs, where circulation may already be compromised due to immobility. These clots can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If left untreated, they may travel to the lungs, resulting in a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism. Encouraging patients to engage in gentle leg exercises, such as ankle circles or knee bends, can help maintain circulation in the lower extremities. Compression stockings may also be employed to promote blood flow and prevent clotting.

Muscle atrophy is a typical problem for care recipients with limited mobility, as the lack of movement can lead to weakening and shrinking of muscles over time. This not only affects the person's physical strength but also contributes to poor circulation. A gentle exercise regimen tailored to the patient's abilities can help maintain muscle mass and promote better blood flow throughout the body.

For older residents in long-term care facilities, addressing circulation issues is particularly critical, as they may already have pre-existing health conditions that can exacerbate complications. Caregivers and medical professionals must be vigilant in monitoring these patients, employing a range of strategies to enhance circulation and prevent the onset of related health issues. 

Regular assessments, personalized care plans, and ongoing communication with healthcare providers are essential components of this comprehensive approach to patient care.

There are several things that caregivers and long-term care facilities can do to improve quality of life and reduce the risk for care recipients who must stay in their beds for long periods of time. 

Regular Repositioning and Movement

Consistent repositioning and movement are crucial in maintaining optimal blood flow, especially for individuals who spend extended periods in a bed. Gravity can negatively affect circulation when a person is in a stationary position, leading to blood pooling in specific areas like the legs and lower back and consequently reducing blood flow to other parts of the body.

To combat these effects and promote better circulation, it's vital for caregivers to regularly adjust the person's position. In medical settings like nursing homes, adjustable hospital beds are invaluable tools as they enable caregivers to easily reposition patients, ensuring blood flow is evenly distributed throughout the body. This not only helps in maintaining good circulation but also aids in preventing pressure sores and minimizing the risk of blood clots.

In addition to adjustable beds, specialized mattresses and cushions can offer extra support and are designed to alleviate pressure on vulnerable areas of the body. These products are often made with materials that conform to the body's shape, distributing weight more evenly and reducing the risk of skin breakdown and pressure ulcers.

Engaging in gentle exercises, even while bed-bound, can also stimulate circulation. Simple movements such as flexing the ankles, rotating the wrists, or light stretches can make a significant difference. Physical therapy should be incorporated into the care plan, as a trained therapist can guide the patient through safe and effective exercises tailored to their abilities and needs.

Dr. Mary Jo Kratz, a geriatric physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said that adjustable beds can help to improve circulation, reduce pressure sores, and promote better sleep. 

Specialized mattresses can provide support for different areas of the body and help to prevent pressure sores. Cushions can help to reduce pressure on sensitive areas of the body, such as the tailbone and heels. All of these products can help to improve the quality of life for older adults who are bed-bound.

Furthermore, massage therapy can be a beneficial tool in improving circulation for bed-bound patients. Gentle massage helps stimulate blood flow, reducing the risk of pooling and enhancing overall circulation. 

Be sure that your loved one's caregivers and health professionals are mindful of these strategies to ensure the well-being of bed-bound care recipients, ultimately minimizing complications and promoting better health outcomes.

Leg Elevation

Leg elevation is a beneficial strategy to enhance circulation for care recipients confined to a bed. Lifting the legs above the heart level encourages the return flow of blood, mitigating the risk of stagnation and clot formation in the lower extremities. This practice is critical as it helps counteract the effects of gravity, which can cause blood to pool in the legs and feet, leading to swelling and an increased risk of vascular complications.

Blood clot formation, particularly deep vein thrombosis, is a serious concern for bed-bound individuals, as it can lead to life-threatening conditions such as pulmonary embolism if not addressed promptly. 

Regularly elevating care recipients' legs can be a preventative measure, ensuring that blood circulates back to the heart more efficiently.

To facilitate effective leg elevation, caregivers and health providers can use leg elevation pillows. These pillows are specifically designed to provide proper support and maintain the legs at an optimal angle, ensuring that the benefits of elevation are maximized. These pillows can also contribute to increased comfort for the patient, which is crucial for those spending extended periods in bed.

Additionally, leg elevation can help alleviate the discomfort associated with edema and improve overall blood circulation. Caregivers need to incorporate leg elevation into the routine care of bed-bound patients, along with other circulation-enhancing practices, to promote vascular health and prevent complications associated with poor circulation.

Physical Exercises

Physical exercises are pivotal in maintaining circulation and mitigating the risks associated with prolonged immobility. When a care recipient is confined to bed, health professionals may recommend a tailored exercise regimen, encompassing both passive and active movements, to stimulate blood flow and keep muscles engaged.

Passive exercises are particularly beneficial for those who may not be able to move independently. These exercises involve a caregiver or therapist manually moving the patient’s limbs to help maintain joint flexibility and encourage circulation. On the other hand, active exercises allow patients to participate actively in their care. These exercises could include ankle pumps, gentle stretches, and light resistance exercises, all performed under careful supervision to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Being bed-bound for prolonged periods challenges the cardiovascular system, as it becomes more difficult for the heart to circulate blood efficiently throughout the body. This can lead to complications, from muscle atrophy and joint stiffness to more severe issues like blood clots and pressure sores. Implementing a combination of repositioning, leg elevation, and targeted physical exercises is crucial to maintaining optimal circulation and preventing these potential complications.

By staying vigilant and dedicated to these practices, health professionals, caregivers, and patients themselves can work together to maintain circulation, preserve muscle function, and enhance overall well-being. It’s about creating a comprehensive care plan that addresses the unique needs of each individual, ensuring that they receive the best possible support and care during their time of immobility.

Families Should Be Proactive

Ensuring that older family members who are bed-bound or have limited mobility receive appropriate and quality care is crucial for maintaining their overall well-being and quality of life. When an individual is confined to a bed or has restricted movement, they are at a higher risk for a range of physical and mental health complications. Therefore, family members play a vital role in advocating for their loved ones to ensure they receive the care they need.

When a family member is proactive in monitoring and advocating for their loved one’s care, it sends a clear message to the caregiving staff that the individual’s well-being is a priority. This can lead to more attentive and personalized care, as staff members know the family is actively involved and concerned about the individual’s quality of life.

Family members are critical in advocating for their loved ones to ensure they receive the necessary care to prevent these complications and maintain a better quality of life. By being proactive and involved, family members can help create a supportive and attentive care environment, ultimately contributing to the overall well-being of their loved ones.

Quality care is expensive, but the cost alone does not guarantee quality care. Being proactive will go a long way to ensure the care is appropriate and maintain your loved one's quality of life. 

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

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