Falls pose a far greater risk of injury and death for seniors than most people would ever guess. Understanding the physiological and environmental factors that bring about falls is important both form a fall-prevention perspective as well as to help evaluate a nursing homes potential liability in fall-injury cases.
I came across a very informative article regarding elderly falls by Kathy Kemle, PA-C that appeared in the Clinical Advisor, “Falls in older adults: averting a disaster” which is especially informative and should be essential reading for both patients and caregivers given the prevalence of falls in the older segments of our society.
In fact, there is a significant increase in both the frequency and severity of falls as we age. The fall rate for people 65 and older escalates at a rapid rate as every year ticks by. Particularly notable is the fact that there are higher fall rates for seniors living in long-term care facilities— nursing homes and assisted living facility— compared with senior living in more independent living arrangements.
Ms. Kemle identifies three main factors that increase a persons likelihood of falling:
- Unstable balance on standing
- Use of more than four prescription medications
- hip weakness
The above factors are a fairly accurate predictor of falls on an annualized basis. Statistics tell us that individuals with just one of the above criteria have a 12% chance of falling each year, but people with all three criteria have a virtual certainly of falling each year.
While a reduction in patients medications is best addressed by physicians, improving the environmental safety at facilities is nursing homes need to address. Particularly for patients in nursing home settings who may already be in somewhat of a compromised physical state, it is crucial for facilities to both acknowledge the fall-risks and implement preventative measures.
One of the most obvious ways for nursing homes to reduce patient’s chance of falling is to keep facilities clean, organized and fall-friendly. Basic changes in the nursing home environment can reduce both the likelihood and severity of fall. Common precautions include:
- Making sure stairways are well-lighted
- Clearly marking steps to alert patients of stairs
- Keeping belongings within easy reach of people– avoiding struggling to access
- Keeping likely spill areas such as: bathrooms, kitchens and cafeteria clean and dry
- Lower bed heights
- Increasing toilet heights
- Providing safe footwear for patients
Certainly, it is unrealistic to assume all falls in nursing homes, hospital and assisted living facilities can be avoided, but with the implementation of relatively common sense precautions, facilities can greatly increase elders independence and quality of life.
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