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Nursing Home Fall Risks and How to Prevent Them

Posted September 28, 2016 | Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect

Falls are commonplace among adults aged 65 and older, especially in nursing homes.  As nursing home fall statistics indicate, the average 100-bed facility reports up to 200 falls per year, while falls kill about 1,800 nursing home residents annually.  In fact, many seniors enter nursing homes because they fall frequently.  Unfortunately, despite a profusion of state and federal laws that create strict standards for long-term care facilities, many nursing home employees do not take adequate measures to prevent or address fall injuries.  When a nursing home resident is injured or killed by a fall which occurs because of a staff member’s neglect or abuse, compensation may be available to the victim or their surviving family members.

What Factors Increase the Risk of Falls Among Seniors?

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People of any age can fall, a fact demonstrated by the huge annual number of slip and fall accidents in the United States.  However, while falls can strike any victim, elderly individuals have a higher risk than young or middle-aged adults.

Even among the elderly, who collectively are already at greater risk than other demographics, certain individuals are more prone to falling than others.  Among seniors, risk factors that increase the likelihood of an unintentional fall include:

  • Gender.  According to a 2005 study published in Injury Prevention, which compared fall rates by gender among adults aged 65 and older, “n estimated 1.64 million older adults were treated in EDs for unintentional fall injuries.  Of these, approximately 1.16 million, or 70.5%, were women.”
  • Poor eyesight.  Impaired vision, which is extremely common among seniors, can make it harder to gauge depth or distance.  Common eye problems among seniors include cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
  • Bone or muscle weakness.  Physical weakness can cause a weight-bearing limb or joint to buckle with no warning.  Contributing factors and causes include vitamin D deficiency, diabetes, osteoporosis, and sarcopenia (muscle wasting associated with advanced age).  Similarly, foot and ankle problems like bunions or peripheral edema (swelling) can also create physical instability and make falling more likely.
  • Medications the person is currently using.  According to a fall risk report by the World Health Organization (WHO), “Benzodiazepine use in older people is associated with an increase of as much as 44% in the risk of hip fracture and night falls.”  Examples of benzodiazepines, which are used to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia, include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin.
  • Certain medical conditions.  The WHO report also noted increased risk of falls among people diagnosed with dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and arthritis, all of which are prevalent among seniors.

Nursing Home Fall Prevention Strategies

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The CDC has issued the following recommendations for reducing falls and fall-related injuries in U.S. nursing homes:

  • Changing the environment to be easier to navigate (e.g. rails in hallways, low beds).
  • Hip pads to protect against pelvic fractures in the event of a fall.
  • Patient assessments.
  • Teaching residents about how to avoid hazardous situations.
  • Teaching staff about risk factors, like those listed above.

The question is whether these recommendations are actually followed.  Protocols for preventing and/or responding to falls are seldom practiced as effectively as they could be, leading to numerous incidents and injuries of a preventable nature.  Take, for instance, this excerpt from a recent audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Health:

“According to the complaint documentation, the complainant, who was an employee of the facility, alleged that a resident had fallen out of bed and then was returned to bed (apparently without an appropriate injury assessment).  Approximately 30 minutes later… the resident went into cardiac arrest…  ccording to the complainant, none of the staff knew what to do about the resident’s condition…  The resident later died.”

In response to this tragic incident, the audit asked two critical questions:

  • “Was a resident not properly assessed after a fall?”
  • “Why were staff, who work with critically ill patients, not better prepared?”

In this particular instance, the fall was related to health problems which subsequently led to a fatal heart attack.  Regardless of whether a fall occurs due to illness, clutter, poor lighting, broken support rails, failure to help a resident stand or get out of bed, nursing home under-staffing that leads to a lack of supervision, or other factors, nursing home employees are expected – indeed, legally required – to meet the care criteria outlined in the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act/42 U.S. Code § 1395i–3 (“Requirements for, and Assuring Quality of Care in, Skilled Nursing Facilities”), Chapter 211 of the Pennsylvania Code (“Program Standards for Long-Term Care Facilities”), and Chapter 207 of the Pennsylvania Code (“Housekeeping and Maintenance Standards for Long-Term Care Nursing Facilities”).  Together, these laws govern nursing home residents’ rights.

Contact a Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer if Your Elderly Parent Was Injured by a Fall

If your mom or dad fell at their nursing home, negligent or abusive staff members may be to blame.  Sadly, it is not unheard-of for nursing home workers to try and pass off bruises or cuts as being fall-related, when in fact, they were actually caused by abusive treatment like punching, hitting, shoving, or kicking.  In its discussion of elder abuse, the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Guide for Senior Citizens notes “bruises and broken bones blamed on falls,” adding, “the real cause may be pinching or beating.”

If you’re worried about abuse at your parent or grandparent’s nursing home, don’t wait to intervene.  Report nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania immediately, and contact an experienced attorney who can help you understand your family’s legal options.  Call Philadelphia nursing home abuse lawyer Brent Wieand at (877) 654-3887 for a free, confidential legal consultation today.

*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.  The Wieand Law Firm, LLC is based in Philadelphia, PA, and proud to serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.*