When elderly adults fall, the possibility of serious injuries, even death, is much greater because of existing medical conditions that increase injury risks. In 2014, there were 29 million reported falls by elderly nursing home residents over the age of 65, resulting in more than 7 million serious injuries and 1,800 fatalities.
Nursing Home Falls and Injuries
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls in nursing homes are a common cause of injury and death. Studies show that between 50 percent and 75 percent of elderly nursing home residents suffer serious falls every year, and most residents fall multiple time within a 12 month period. Nursing home falls account for approximately 7 million injuries each year, twice the number reported for elderly adults living outside of nursing homes. CDC reports show that 20 percent of nursing home deaths are attributed to resident falls.
Elderly falls frequently result in cuts and abrasions, fractures and broken bones, slipped discs and spinal damage, neck and back injuries, and serious head trauma. Due to conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis and lack of physical strength, fractures and broken bones in elderly nursing home residents often take months or years to heal, resulting in long-term injuries and disabilities. Hip fractures in elderly adults over the age of 65 are linked to increased mortality rates, regardless of the severity of the fall.
In addition to serious physical injuries and disabilities, nursing home falls often cause depression, anxiety, stress, cognitive decline, feelings of helplessness, and social isolation in elderly nursing home residents. After a fall, many residents are faced with a loss of mobility, confined to a wheelchair or bed. The need for constant care and loss of independence causes emotional problems, as well as physical problems, for many elderly adults. After one fall that results in injuries, many residents live in fear of having another fall that may result in permanent disabilities.
Common Causes of Resident Falls
According to CDC reports, many elderly nursing home residents have existing medical conditions that put them in a nursing home. Many suffer from chronic illnesses or diseases, physical disabilities, and cognitive dysfunction such as dementia and Alzheimer’s that prevents them from performing daily tasks without help. These existing medical conditions, combined with declining health, puts elderly nursing home residents at a much higher risk of falls and injuries. Common causes of falls include:
- Muscle weakness
- Walking or gait problems
- Dizziness or fainting
- Vision problems
- Unstable walking aids
One of the most common causes of dizziness in elderly adults over the age of 65 is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). It’s an inner-ear disorder that causes mild to intense dizziness for several minutes, usually triggered by specific changes in the position of the head. It often occurs when tilting the head up or down or side to side, so looking up or down, lying down, standing up, or turning over in bed can cause the feeling that the room is spinning around. BPPV is not considered a serious medical condition, but it does increase the risks of serious and sudden falls.
Various types of medications are commonly given to nursing home residents to treat existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep disorders, nausea and vomiting, depression and anxiety, and chronic pain. In 2013, a study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine reported that the use of nonbenzodiazepine sleep medications and hypnotic drugs are commonly given to elderly nursing home residents. These medications are linked to significant cognitive difficulties and increased nursing home falls.
Abuse and Neglect
Research shows that many nursing home falls are the result of negligence and can be prevented. Environmental dangers such as wet or slippery floors, dim lighting, tripping hazards, and improper mobile aids increase the risks of serious falls. Nursing homes that ignore fall hazards put residents at greater risks of severe fall injuries and fatalities. Negligent caregivers who are inattentive to resident medical conditions that increase fall risks contribute to injuries. Failure to provide a safe nursing home environment that results in injuries for residents is grounds for a nursing home negligence lawsuit.
Fall Prevention Measures
Nursing homes are required by law to perform a fall-risk assessment on every admitted resident to check for balance problems and underlying medical conditions that predispose residents to falls. To protect residents from fall injuries, nursing home facilities must implement an individualized fall-prevention plan. However, to cut time and costs many nursing homes use a standard form that fails to address individual resident issues and needs related to fall-risk assessment.
To prevent resident falls, nursing homes must provide appropriate supervision and care of all residents. Installing safe flooring, handrails in corridors, bathroom grab bars, guard rails on beds, proper walking aids, good lighting, and motion-detector alarms can help to prevent falls.