While many may be familiar with the dangers that falls pose to elderly individuals, often people are surprised by the number of nursing home residents that experience falls in regulated, supervised facilities. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal accidents in adults over the age of 65. For example, for data collected in 2014, approximately 2.8 million adults over the age of 65 were taken to emergency rooms for treatment after a fall. In addition, 800,000 of those people were hospitalized for further care, and around 27,000 died from their fall or fall-related injuries. Almost 30% of adults surveyed in 2014 said that they had fallen at least once in the previous 12 months.
Although elderly people experience falls often regardless of their living situation, falls in nursing homes are particularly common. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), run out of the US Department of Health and Human Services, evaluated the rate of falls in nursing homes and found that “Of the 1.6 million residents in U.S. nursing facilities, approximately half fall annually. About 1 in 3 of those who fall will fall two or more times in a year.” About a tenth of these falls result in serious injury, and around 65,000 result in a hip fracture, which can severely reduce movement and quality of life.
Causes of Nursing Home Falls
Falls are usually caused by a number of factors, often in tandem. Older individuals often struggle with declines in eyesight from cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration which can decrease vision. Decreased vision combined with poor muscle control from other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, scoliosis, and arthritis can provide a perfect storm of factors leading to a fall. Strokes, heart attacks, and seizures can cause falls if the resident experiences one of them while standing. Another common cause of falls is environmental hazards. Chairs and tables placed in pathways or a redistribution of furniture can be more dangerous for elderly individuals than for those who have clear eyesight and muscle control. Dim lighting can contribute to the problem.
In addition, some nursing home residents require supervision and assistance when they walk, use the restroom, or get in and out of a wheelchair. If their caretakers are not diligent about providing the necessary support, elderly individuals may try to perform these tasks on their own, even though they do not have the physical capacity. If the resident uses a walking aid (such as a cane or walker), that aid must be kept in good condition or it might contribute to a fall. When the resident's mobility decreases, the nursing home staff is responsible for noticing and providing them with the correct kind of aid before a fall occurs. Bathroom and shower devices such as chairs, handles, and no-slip flooring should be installed in rooms with residents who are at risk for falling. Failure by the residency facility to provide a safe environment can be considered neglect.
Medication can also be a major contributing cause of falls. Almost all nursing home residents take some form of medication, and the majority take more than one. Some of these medications have side effects such as dizziness, vertigo, sleepiness, disorientation, and confusion. Although it is illegal for nursing homes to use chemical restraints (such as sleeping aids, narcotics, and painkillers) to subdue patients without a physician's prescription and direct instruction, changes in medication, illegally administered medication, or medication errors can all cause falls under certain circumstances.
Consequences of Nursing Home Falls
The most important step to take after a fall is to obtain an immediate medical evaluation of the victim by a doctor or surgeon. The victim of a fall may feel embarrassed or not wish to cause inconvenience to those around them and therefore under exaggerate the extent of their pain or injuries. Sometimes, therefore, those who care for them will need to encourage the victim of a fall to allow themselves to be medically examined and cared for effectively. Falls should always be taken seriously because their consequences can be fatal, especially if they are not immediately addressed. Some consequences of falls in nursing homes include:
- Long term painful injuries such as bruises, broken bones, brain bleeds, strokes, and paralysis
- Self-restriction of activities and mobility due to a fear of falling again
- Reduced independence
- Functional decline
- Bedsores and infection due to lack of mobility
- Social withdrawal, depression, and anxiety
- Permanent disabilities
- General reduced quality of life
Steps to Prevent Falls in Adult Care Facilities
The CDC recommends certain steps that elderly people and their caretakers can take to prevent the rate of falls. These steps include
- Regular eyesight checkups and updating prescriptions
- Balance and strength training such as Tai Chi, yoga, or other approved group exercise designed for elderly participants
- Communicating about the risks of certain medicines that may cause falls (to the nursing home, doctor, and resident)
- Avoiding medicines that increase dizziness, numbness, disorientation, and confusion
- Removing obstacles in the room that may cause falls
- Consider vitamin D supplements
Lawsuits after a Nursing Home Fall
While it is impossible to completely control a nursing home resident's actions, there are certain steps which nursing homes should take to prevent the number of falls that occur at their facilities. Safety equipment, bright lighting, clear and dry hallways, and sufficient staff who can provide mobility support when necessary are all fundamental to a safe nursing home. If your loved one has experienced a fall at a nursing home and you believe that neglect, abuse, or mismanagement could have been the case, you are most likely considering what steps to take next.
A personal injury attorney can help you evaluate your options and ensure that your elderly family members receive the full extent of the law's protection. If they have suffered injuries due to a preventable accident, they may be entitled to compensation. Call trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian today for a free consultation on your case at (800) 529-6162 or contact us online.