Why is the number of older adults who fall in nursing homes so high?
Slip and fall accidents are common among the elderly, but the rate of nursing home falls is much higher than the rate of falls among the general population. Studies undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that approximately 1800 nursing home residents die of fall-related injuries each year. Even for those who survive, these falls are frequently life-altering because they result in serious or permanent disability.
The Scope of the Problem
In the United States, more than 1.4 million people aged 65 and older live in nursing homes. That number is expected to more than double by 2030. While the almost one and a half million elderly residents of nursing homes represent only about 5 percent of the population over 65, nursing home residents account for 20 percent of fatal falls in this age group. Every year, the average nursing home with 100 beds reports 100 to 200 falls and it is well-known that many more falls go unreported. This is an alarming statistic, meaning that between one-half and three- quarters of nursing home residents fall each year, many more than once. Residents of nursing homes fall at twice the rate of other older adults; the average resident falls 2.6 times per year. More than a third of these fall injuries occur among patients unable to walk.
Why are there more falls in nursing homes than in the community at large?
There are many reasons that elderly residents of nursing home fall more frequently, some to do with their own fragility and some to do with insufficient nursing care. Nursing home residents are more likely to fall because they:
- Tend to be older and frailer, that’s why they’re in nursing homes
- Have more chronic conditions and more difficulty walking
- Tend to have cognitive (thought or memory) problems
- Are less able to manage simple tasks like dressing on their own
- Have poorer balance and more general muscle weakness
- Take more medications that increase the risk of falls, such as painkillers or anti-anxiety drugs
- May suffer weakness from being improperly nourished or hydrated
On the other hand, some of the reasons for nursing home falls may be the result of environmental hazards, negligence or even abuse. The nursing home may be responsible for the patient’s fall if the accident is attributable to:
- Unsafe conditions, such as wet floors, inadequate lighting, or incorrect bed height
- Improper sanitation of surfaces or supports that makes them sticky or slippery
- Lack of necessary equipment, such as railings in halls or showers
- Lack of maintenance of wheelchairs or other equipment
- Negligence of a staff member (e.g. administration of incorrect medication)
- Inattention on the part of staff members (e.g. not checking on the patient frequently enough)
- Abusive behavior on the part of a staff member
Environmental hazards are estimated to cause as much as 27 percent of falls among residents. Contributing to falls is the fact that most nursing homes are short-staffed and the staff they have is often not adequately trained in methods of fall prevention. If your loved one has fallen and suffered a personal injury in a nursing home and you know or suspect that negligence or abuse was a factor, contact a competent personal injury attorney as quickly as possible.