Falls in the Nursing Home


Laurence Z. Rubenstein, MD, MPH; Karen R. Josephson, MPH; and Alan S. Robbins, MD


To review the epidemiology and causes of falls and fall-related injuries in nursing homes and to provide clinicians with a structured framework to evaluate and treat nursing home residents at risk for falls.


All large-scale published studies documenting incidence, causes, risk factors, and preventive strategies for falls in nursing homes were reviewed.


The mean incidence of falls in nursing homes is 1.5 falls per bed per year (range, 0.2 to 3.6 falls). The most common precipitating causes include gait and balance disorders, weakness, dizziness, environmental hazards, confusion, visual impairment, and postural hypotension. The most important underlying risk factors for falls and injuries include some of these same items and others, such as lower-extremity weakness, gait and balance instability, poor vision, cognitive and functional impairment, and sedating and psychoactive medications. Many strategies for the prevention of falls have been tried, with mixed success. The most successful consider the multifactorial causes of falls and include interventions to improve strength and functional status, reduce environmental hazards, and allow staff to identify and monitor high-risk residents. Strategies that reduce mobility through use of restraints have been shown to be more harmful than beneficial and should be avoided.


A focused history and physical examination after a fall can usually determine both the immediate underlying causes of the fall and contributing risk factors. In addition, regular evaluations in the nursing home can help identify patients at high risk who can then be targeted for specific treatment and prevention strategies.

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