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Falls: The Surprising Danger of Long-Term Care

Falls are a common occurrence in nursing homes and can have serious consequences for frail, elderly residents. Of the 1.6 million nursing home residents in the U.S., approximately half fall in a year, and one in three fall two or more times in a year, as reported by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Serious injuries from falls are a major reason for lawsuits against nursing home facilities and their staff.

Consequences of Falls for Older Nursing Home Residents

Injuries related to falls can reduce quality of life, as well as a resident’s ability to function independently. They can result in a fear of falling and restriction of activities, cause serious injuries, and increase a resident’s risk of death. Falls are the second leading cause of injury-related death among people ages 65 to 84, and the leading cause for people age 85 or older, according to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI).

Causes of Falls in Long-Term Care Facilities

Intrinsic Risk Factors for Falls in Older People

Older people in nursing homes are more likely to suffer a fall due to various intrinsic factors, including acute medical conditions, chronic diseases, inactivity, effects of aging on gait, balance, and strength, behavioral symptoms, and medication side effects. Although these factors cannot be entirely eliminated, they can be managed by nursing home staff to reduce a resident’s risk of falling. Medical management of acute conditions and chronic diseases can be improved through appropriate evaluation and treatment, as stated by AHRQ.

Extrinsic Risk Factors for Falling in Nursing Homes

Extrinsic fall risk factors in long-term care facilities involve environmental hazards, unsafe equipment, and unsafe personal care items. Examples of such risk factors include:

  • Uneven flooring
  • Wet, slippery areas
  • Cluttered living spaces
  • Unstable furniture
  • Poor lighting
  • Unstable bed wheels
  • Defective wheelchair brakes
  • Inaccessible personal items
  • Improper footwear
  • Hard-to-manage clothing

Not all falls can be prevented, but research has shown that fall rates in long-term care facilities can be significantly reduced with appropriate management and care.

Two Approaches to Fall Prevention Needed in Long-Term Care Facilities

AHRQ’s Fall Management Program addresses fall prevention for individual residents in nursing homes with two primary approaches.

  • The first approach is to immediately respond to residents who fall with careful evaluation and investigation and immediate intervention during the first 24 hours to help identify risks and prevent future accidents.
  • The second approach is long-term management, which includes screening at admission, quarterly, annually, and with any change of condition to identify residents at high risk for a fall.

With both approaches, nursing home staff should conduct comprehensive fall assessments, which are then used to develop individualized care plans for fall intervention. Staff should also monitor each resident’s response and make revisions to care plans as needed.

Environmental Inspections to Prevent Falls in Nursing Homes

Long-term care facilities should inspect the personal living spaces of all residents and the equipment they use to make them as safe as possible. This includes residents’ rooms and bathrooms, their wheelchairs, walkers and canes, and their feet and footwear. These inspections should be performed to evaluate:

  • Paths
  • Easy access
  • Stable furniture
  • Proper lighting
  • Flooring
  • Equipment
  • Footwear and foot care

If nursing home staff have failed in their duty, which resulted in a fall for your elderly loved one, you may have a claim for compensation. Call the Sorey Law Firm P.L.L.C. at (903) 207-5526 to find out if you have a case and what damages you may be able to claim.