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Marshall researchers publish findings on how prolonged power outages affect elderly patients

Dec. 08, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- A team of Marshall University researchers recently published an article on the effects of prolonged power outages on the health care of elderly, bedridden patients.

The study, published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Geriatrics, highlighted two cases following the 2012 derecho that left millions of Americans without electricity for days.

"Our article described two cases where patients who were bedridden developed complicated and irreversible pressure sores after being without power for several days," said Dr. Shirley M. Neitch, a professor of geriatrics in the department of internal medicine at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

The first patient previously had intermittent but minor problems with skin breakdown, and the second patient had no previous skin issues. The researchers speculate that the adverse environmental conditions resulting from the power outage were primarily responsible for the patients' pressure sores.

High humidity and excess sweating led to an increase in moisture on their skin, and it was likely difficult for their caregivers to keep them clean and dry without light, air conditioning and heated water, Neitch said.

Both patients cited in the case studies eventually died, and it is believed the pressure sores contributed to their deaths.

Neitch and her team of researchers say their case studies underscore the need for continuous power service for all bedridden patients. Although most power companies offer high-priority restoration status, it's impossible for all patients to have continuous power during these outages. Because of this, Neitch said it's imperative for the medical community and other agencies to be aware of services available to at-risk populations.

The article references two national initiatives that may help -- the 211 Call Center System and the Vulnerable Needs Registry System.

Neitch said physicians know patients will likely call 911 during emergencies, and they likewise need to know that patients in need of assistance should be informed about 211 for help in locating the services they need. Local health departments can be contacted to determine if that system is available.

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