Falls in nursing homes are a frequent problem. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported as many as 20% of nursing home falls resulted in serious injuries, up to 6% caused fractures. In the same report, the CDC estimated 3 million people 65 and older will live in nursing homes by 2030. By those numbers, at least 600,000 will be seriously injured by falls in a nursing home in the future. A resident will fall on average 3 times per year, including people who cannot walk. We put our trust in long-term care facilities to take care of our loved ones, so why are there so many falls?
Why Do These Falls Occur?
Many influences can cause a fall, some more serious than others. Here are some of the most common reasons that older people fall:
- Difficulty walking. Residents could have decreased motor function or poor reaction time.
- Thought or memory problems. If a resident cannot remember where they’re going or what they’re doing, they are at higher risk of falling from the confusion. If they cannot think clearly, they might make poor decisions about where to step or fall out of bed.
- Chronic conditions. Patients with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are an increased fall risk because they are not completely aware of their surroundings and can lose motor skills. These patients also take smaller steps and tend to shuffle their feet which could increase risk of tripping. Other conditions that affect the bones, like osteoporosis, or the muscles, like Parkinson’s disease, could increase risk as well because the musculoskeletal system is compromised which it makes it harder for patients to move.
- Medications. Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications could impair motor and muscle functions in residents. Switching medications creates a higher risk in the following three days because the patient’s system is affected differently and they might experience new side effects, like dizziness.
- Environmental hazards. Wet floors, poor lighting, improper bed height, and ill-fitted wheelchairs are all increases to fall risk.
- Prior falls. If a resident has fallen once, they become a greater fall risk from fear of falling again.
- Neglect. If staff ignores a patient, they might fall trying to get the staff’s attention. They might also fall trying to meet their basic needs without the help of the staff.
Though these are all individual reasons, many patients’ falls are from a combination of multiple reasons. From a younger person’s perspective, falls may not seem so serious, but they are in the older population. An estimated 1,800 people living in nursing homes die each year from falls.
Knowing what prevents falls could help your loved one in a nursing home. Though many might think that physical restraints help prevent falls, this is incorrect. Restraints actually increase the risk because they limit the patient’s movement. In doing so, patient’s muscles become weaker, thus creating a larger fall risk. The following are helpful ways to prevent falls:
- Lowering beds. This would make it easier for residents to get in and out of bed. If a fall does still occur, the distance between the bed and the floor is smaller, reducing the risk of serious injury or death from the impact.
- Non-slip socks. Silicone grips on the bottoms of socks would allow residents more grip to the floor when they are not wearing shoes.
- Handrails. Access to grip bars in bathrooms and handrails in hallways could allow a resident to balance themselves before further movement.
- Raised toilet seats. Less distance to travel means less chance of a fall.
- Assessment. Properly assessing which patients are fall risks from medications, conditions, or otherwise.
- Supplements. Vitamin D supplements or exposure to sunlight could help with bone density and reduce fall risk. These supplements especially help dementia patients because Vitamin D deficiency is common among that population.
- Exercise programs. Exercise is thought to increase balance, strength, and motor skills.
Though these methods cannot completely eliminate falls, they could reduce the occurrence considerably.
What to Do After a Fall
The damage done by falls can be irreversible if the person’s health is already compromised by old age or a chronic condition. If a loved one has had a serious fall in a nursing home and is in bad condition, you might need legal help. Whether it was an accident or a form of abuse, falls are dangerous for the elderly and should not be taken lightly. Contact us at the law office of Todd W. Burris and we can assess your potential case.