Falls Are a Known Risk for the Elderly. Nursing Homes That Don’t Acknowledge the Danger Should Expect Lawsuits.
Each year, around 3 million elderly Americans (age 65 and older) end up in the emergency room after a fall. While falling is a risk for all seniors, nursing home residents suffer a higher rate of falls and injury than elders who live at home. The number of nursing home falls is hard to pin down; it’s estimated 50-75% of patients fall each year, and a 2000 study showed nursing homes see on average 1-2 falls per bed in their facility each year.
Especially for nursing home patients, who are likely to have underlying medical conditions, a fall can cause life-changing or even fatal injury. However, in most cases, these injuries are entirely preventable. Nursing homes can and should take better care of their patients, or they may open themselves up to liability.
Risk Factors for Falls
An elder who falls once is twice as likely to fall again, meaning fall prevention can do double-duty simply by stopping the first accident. A key part of helping the elderly avoid falls is knowing what may predispose someone to these accidents. Individual risk factors include:
- Trouble walking and balancing
- Unsteady gait
- Foot pain
- Lower body weakness
- Vision loss
- Use of multiple medications, especially psychotropics
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Certain medical conditions
Environmental factors can play a role as well. Fall hazards in nursing homes include:
- Poor lighting
- Loose rugs
- Ill-fitting shoes
- Lack of handrails on beds, toilets, etc.
- Cluttered floors
Elders who are already at risk should not be housed in unsafe conditions. Many nursing homes across the country could likely reduce falls simply by fixing the dangers listed above.
Fall Prevention Plans
Because falls happen due to a variety of factors, any nursing home that wishes to seriously address the problem should approach it from multiple angles. Most experts recommend a fall prevention program that combines expertise from multiple disciplines.
When nurses are aware of fall risks, they can do much more to prevent them. In some facilities, nurses are not even aware which patients are more likely to fall. A small bit of information can go a long way when it is targeted to those who can use it.
The number of nurse-hours per patient is linked to many indicators of nursing home quality. Simply put, the more nurses available, the more assistance each patient will get. A larger staff also makes it easier to monitor patients in different areas of the home. Falls are often blamed on patients’ “behavior issues,” but wanting to move around or needing to go to the bathroom is not a question of following instructions. Patients who are at a fall risk or have difficulty walking should have support to do the things they want and need.
Implement Exercise Programs for Patients
Gentle exercise can improve strength and balance, decreasing fall risk for the elderly. A number of evidence-based programs have been created for this purpose. Often, exercise is combined with patient education so participants understand why a program works and what they can do to decrease the likelihood of a fall.
Because some medications are known to increase fall risk, a pharmacist or doctor should regularly review a patient’s medication regimen, look for lower-risk alternatives, and educate patients about the potential side effects of their prescriptions. Reducing the number of medications an elderly nursing home patient takes may not always be feasible, but many treating doctors do not even think about a patient’s medication use after an initial prescription.
Why Preventing Falls Matters
Falls kill around 1,800 nursing home patients each year and are a leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI), hip fracture, and other broken bones. The medical costs of these conditions are steep and can strain finances when you’re already paying for round-the-clock care. Severe injuries can mean a patient needs more assistance and is less able to participate in the activities they enjoyed. The emotional toll of these injuries can further affect a patient’s physical health.
Part of providing care for a group prone to falling is doing everything possible to reduce the risk of this type of accident. While nursing homes may balk at the costs of implementing fall prevention measures, putting them in place is the right thing to do.
What to Do After a Fall in a Nursing Home
Our team at Brown & Barron, LLC is dedicated to using the legal system to improve people’s lives. With issues like nursing home neglect and abuse, one lawsuit can spark changes that affect an entire facility. This is why we urge anyone who has suffered a preventable fall in a nursing home to reach out to our team.
If you or a loved one was seriously injured because of a nursing home’s lax policies, you deserve compensation to help cover medical costs and other losses. Additionally, any facility that fails to keep its patients safe should be held accountable. In the world of for-profit nursing homes, lawsuits are often one of the only ways to prompt large-scale change.
Our nursing home abuse lawyers are here to help you. Call us any time at (410) 698-1717 to schedule your free consultation.