Can Nursing Home Falls Be Reduced?

As we age, our bodies change, our eyesight often gets worse, along with our hearing, and physically we just don't have the same balance and flexibility we enjoyed in our younger years. Falls resulting in injury can be catastrophic to the elderly.

"Falls among the elderly contribute to roughly 1,800 deaths each year and statistics are showing that the problem is greater in nursing homes than anywhere else. Only 5% of the population above the age of 65 lives in nursing homes, but falls in nursing homes account for 20% of the falls that occur nationwide, regardless of location."

It makes sense that many of the falls happen in nursing homes. Even with around the clock care, there never is a 1 to 1 patient/staff ratio, and with increased frailty among the members that live under assisted care, accidents are bound to happen. Some of these falls can be prevented, however, by looking at some of the factors that contribute to elderly patient falls.

  1. Medications
  2. Environmental dangers
  3. Atrophy
  4. Exercise

Medications: We have all read or heard on commercials the side effects of some medications. As stated, some medications may increase the risk of falls if the side effects of the medications include dizziness, fatigue and muscle weakness. It is even more likely in elderly patients that have limited mobility or are already frailer due to age or illness. It only makes some sense that if patients' falls are directly related to the side effects of medication, they should be prescribed medicines with fewer side effects to decrease the likelihood of a fall. Substitutions could be found in order to reduce the risk of falls in nursing homes.

Environmental Dangers: "Despite the belief that nursing homes provide a much safer environment that reduces the risk of falls, between 16% and 27% of the falls that occur in nursing homes are the result of an environmental hazard." Tripping hazards are more common in a nursing home since there is more custodial care happening in that facility that in an everyday home. Chairs, stools, rugs, wet floors and other furniture can pose risks and furniture must be put out of the way and floors marked as wet in a way that the elderly can see and avoid the hazard. Even with the warnings, the elderly can have reduced reaction time that causes them to fall when a younger person could right themselves before injury.

Atrophy: This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When a patient is confined to a bed or limited in his or her movement, muscles become atrophied. The longer they can't move, the more weakened their muscles get, contributing to a greater risk of falling. Nursing homes can inadvertently encourage this by limiting the amount of activity that patients are able to participate in. They may think they are saving them from risk of injury, but instead of benefiting the patient, confining the elderly to beds only make them frailer and subject to falls when they must walk or perform an activity.

Exercise: This is good for everyone. There are few people that don't understand that encouraging anyone, but especially the elderly, to exercise helps them in many ways and will ultimately prolong their lives. To reduce the risks of a fall, activities should not be too strenuous, but the activity will prevent muscle weakness and help older people maintain balance and important motor skills. It also delays #3 factor, Atrophy. Easy and controlled exercises are beneficial for the elderly, allowing participants to perform the actions while seated or with a seat close by. Exercise has another side benefit, allowing the elderly to feel less confined and maintain their sense of dignity and freedom. Studies show that adults who exercise regularly have a longer lifespan than those who do not.

The factors that contribute to falls in nursing homes can be reduced or wiped out completely with a little forethought and review of the environment and staff that will be caring for an elderly loved one. Don't ignore previous cases of falling in a nursing home you might use. Investigate the cause, result, and if the fall could have been avoided and make an educated decision before you leave a loved one in a nursing home's care.

If your loved one has sustained serious injuries related to a fall or being dropped in a nursing home, they may be entitled to significant damages for their injuries for their related pain and medical expenses. Carlson & Burnett attorney, Rich Hitz frequently addresses audiences in Nebraska and Iowa on nursing home abuse and neglect issues. Mr. Hitz has led and organized educational seminars for other lawyers in an effort to increase professional awareness and understanding of these issues.

Retrieved from: Nursing Home Falls Can Be Reduced By Implementing Basic Precautions, June 8, 2015, Pearl Griffin

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