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.
After the fall has occurred, it is also critical that nursing homes determine the root cause of the fall. Unfortunately, the main cause of the fall is often ignored or not investigated by the staff. This leads to recurrence of falls in these elderly adults and often times can leave families of the resident confused as to why their loved one is severely injured or has passed away. Families of these nursing home residents are entitled to know why their family member fell and what interventions have been implemented to reduce the risk and occurrence of falls in the future. They are also entitled to notice when a significant change of condition has occurred. Increasingly, long-term care facilities do not inform families of an elderly resident's fall, especially when injuries are not readily apparent to the staff. Most nursing homes run by a corporate enterprise have detailed procedures in place for effectively communicating falls to families and treating the falls. These procedures are usually instituted in compliance with state and federal laws regarding the standard of care owed to residents. These procedures promote a safe environment. When these policies are violated, long-term care facilities can be held accountable for injuries to a resident and in the worst of cases, their untimely death.
- The nursing home has a duty to keep elderly residents safe.
- Falls in a nursing home can seriously injure and/or kill an elderly resident.
- Falls are preventable.
Kiel, Douglas P. "Falls: Prevention in Community-dwelling Older Persons." UpToDate. Wolters Kluwer Health, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.
Kiel, Douglas P. "Falls in Older Persons: Risk Factors and Patient Evaluation." UpToDate. Wolters Kluwer Health, 29 July 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.