For most families who have already experienced the traumatic effect of having to place their loved one in a nursing home, they are too often familiar with the dangers associated with falls. Between 30% and 40% of all people over the age of 65 in some form of a long-term care facility will fall within a given calendar year. This number increases to 50% for residents who are 80 years or older. This means that, on average, 50% of all long-term care facility residents will fall each year. These falls often result in injury to the resident and sometimes those injuries are catastrophic.
In fact, the injuries that result from falls are so severe that they account for 62% of all emergency room visits for those 65 years of age or older. A major issue associated with falls is the generalized belief among healthcare professionals in nursing homes that falls are unavoidable and an inevitable part of the aging process. This erroneous belief is alarming for two reasons: 1) complications from falls are the leading cause of death in those older than 65, and 2) falls are manageable and preventable.
Upon admission to a nursing home, an elderly resident should be assessed for his or her risk of falls. This assessment should take into account the resident’s history of falls, difficulties in gait and balance, medications, and any preexisting illnesses or diseases. Should a resident experience a fall after admission, the facility and its employees should treat this occurrence as a “Significant Change of Condition.” Significant changes of condition in residents require that a resident be reevaluated and an updated/modified plan of care be instituted for that patient. Interventions to be implemented upon evaluation of this significant change of condition can include: bed mats, bed alarms, wheelchair alarms, walking assistive devices such as a cane or walker, modification of medication dosages, and the requirement that residents have a staff member assist them when moving about. When nursing homes fail to update the resident care plan or acknowledge that a significant change of medical condition has occurred it can result in a deviation from the standard of care. Negligence in regard to resident falls are extremely common because of understaffing in the facilities and inadequate education of the staff on how to address falls.