The High Risk of Falls in Nursing Homes
Among the aged population, nursing home falls are an unfortunately common affliction – affecting 50 to 70 percent of nursing home residents per year. Nursing home residents age 65 and older may already suffer from health complication affecting their balance. That’s why, when it comes to ensuring the safety of our elders, nursing homes need to be held to the highest standard. Simple awareness and safety measures can reduce the fall risks experienced by senior citizens and protect their health.
Why nursing home residents are at risk of falling
There are a number of contributing factors, from health complications to environmental hazards, that put nursing home residents over the age of 65 at risk of falling. In many cases, falls are linked to multiple or combined factors, most of which can be prevented with proper care.
Health issues that can lead to falls include, but are not limited to:
- Arthritis: Residents suffering from arthritis often experience reduced strength, joint damage, inflammation, postural issues and poor muscle function, all of which can contribute to falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis more than doubles your chances of falling.
- Diabetes: The elevated glucose levels induced by diabetes can affect the nervous system, resulting in loss of nerve sensation and muscle function. Nursing home residents who suffer from this debilitating disease are 17 times more likely to fall than those who don’t.
- Parkinson’s disease: A resident’s gait (ability to walk) can be disrupted by Parkinson’s disease, which typically causes short stepping, leaning forward, low blood pressure and lack of arm movement.
- Anemia: Fatigue, weakness and dizziness are common symptoms of anemia, all of which increase the risk of falls.
- Muscle weakness: Inactivity and lack of exercise reduces strength and muscle function, which is important for balance.
- Vertigo: This complication is often the result of calcium and fluids accumulating in the inner ear. Vertigo affects sensory perception and balance.
- Dehydration and poor nutrition: Lack of water and proper nutrients can result in muscle weakness, low blood pressure, fatigue and loss of bone strength.
- Poor eyesight: Eyesight diminishes with age, and residents who cannot see well are more likely to trip over obstacles.
- Other factors: Multiple medications, cognitive challenges, complications caused by surgery and overexertion are other factors that can lead to a fall.
Environmental factors can greatly increase the risk of falling, especially for residents who already suffer from health complications. They typically include:
- Slippery conditions: Wet floors, rug skidding and other slippery environmental factors can result in devastating falls.
- Uneven surfaces and clutter: Floor cracks, small ditches, wires and other clutter can cause a resident to trip and fall.
- Poor lighting: Nursing home residents ages 65 or older are already at risk of falling due to decreased eyesight. Poor lighting only increasing a resident’s chances of falling.
- Improper footwear: Footwear that is worn too loose or tight can affect a resident’s balance. Wearing the wrong shoe size or shoes that are worn down can also be contributing factors.
- Defective walking aids: A defective cane or walker can be a recipe for disaster, resulting in an unexpected and devastating fall.
Injuries sustained from falls
According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, roughly 5 percent of adults over the age 65 are nursing home residents. Yet fall-related deaths in nursing homes account for about 20 percent of deaths for that age range, amounting to around 1,800 fatalities per year. On average, each nursing home resident is likely to experience at least two falls per year, which often result in serious injuries.
Thanks to weak bones and the decreased ability to respond to falls, fractures to the femur (thigh bone) and pelvic bone are commonplace. Residents who suffer from osteoporosis are especially at risk of a bone fracture. Hip fractures account for the majority of fall-related deaths among senior citizens. Additionally, a broken hip or femur can result in a resident’s inability to perform regular functions, which in turn may lead to further health complications. For example, a resident with limited mobility after a fall may be at elevated risk of developing pressure sores.
Nursing home residents are also at risk of sustaining head injuries from falls. Even minor bumps can cause subdural hematomas in older adults. This ailment occurs when excess blood accumulates in the surface of the brain, causing tissue to compress. Naturally, brain tissue begins to shrink in senior citizens, creating a gap in the brain’s surface and opening up pathways for fluid to build up. The veins encompassing the brain also weaken and are prone to rupture. Without urgent medical treatment, a subdural hematoma can be deadly, especially if it affects an artery.
What nursing homes can do to prevent falls
While it is impossible for nursing homes to completely eliminate the risk of falls, safeguards can be enhanced to reduce the number of falls that occur. They include, but are not limited to:
- Promote exercise, mobility and balance.
- Promote hydration and healthy nutrition.
- Make sure residents are wearing proper footwear.
- Fix uneven surfaces and removing clutter.
- Keep floors dry and small rugs secure to prevent slips.
- Make sure the facility is well-lit.
Install railings and grab bars in bathrooms, hallways and other areas throughout the facility.
In addition, nursing home staff need to appropriately monitor patients to ensure that any falls that do occur are appropriately addressed. Most of the health risks associated with falls can be mitigated with prompt medical attention. However, when nursing home residents slip and fall and are then neglected, serious and even fatal health issues can ensue.
Nursing home staff are obliged to ensure the safety and well-being of the residents they are employed to care for. However, if the staff fail to maintain a clean and safe living facility – or fail to prioritize the health needs of residents – they should be held accountable for negligence. If a loved one has sustained an injury from a nursing home fall, you need to speak to an experienced attorney who will launch an investigation and build a strong case.
- Aging Care (2017). 7 Things that Cause Elderly Falls. – via agingcare.com.
- Aging Care (2017). How to Prevent a Senior from Falling. – via agingcare.com.
- Health in Aging (2017). Falls Prevention. – via healthinaging.org.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Important Facts about Falls. – via www.cdc.gov.
- Nursing Home Abuse Center (2017). Falls and Fractures. – via www.nursinghomeabusecenter.com.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Arthritis Increases Chance of Falls. – via www.cdc.gov.
- Health Central (2017). Why Diabetes Raises Your Risk of Falling. – www.healthcentral.com.
- Medscape (2007). Knowledge of Risk Factors for Falling Reported by Patients with Parkinson Disease. – via www.medscape.com.
- WebMD (2005). Anemia in Elderly Raises Risk of Falls. – via www.webmd.com.
- WebMD (2016). Vertigo. – via www.webmd.com.
- Community Connection (2009). Falls, Nutrition and Hydration. – via communityconnection.net.
- UPMC Health Beat (2015). The Threat of Common Fall-Related Injuries. – via share.upmc.com.
- The New York Times (2015). For Older Adults, a Rising Risk of Subdural Hematoma. – via nytimes.com.
- Medline Plus (2017). Subdural Hematoma. – via medlineplus.gov