A recent Huffington post article discussed one woman’s experience with her elderly mother’s frequent falls in a nursing home. The woman discussed the worry that resulted whenever the phone would ring late at night or early in the morning and how much she dreaded hearing that her mother had taken yet another fall.
Thankfully, the author’s mother never suffered any life-threatening injuries as a result of falling, though she is now wheelchair-bound due to balance issues. Her mother was one of the lucky ones, as statistics from the Centers for Disease Control reveal that 1,800 people die in the United States every year from injuries related to falls. This includes conditions such as traumatic brain injuries and broken bones, both of which can prove fatal. Even those who survive falls often suffer damaging injuries that can further reduce their quality of life.
Something that many people many not realize is that falls in nursing homes occur twice as often among elderly individuals than among those who are living at home. Though it’s true that residents of nursing home are generally frailer than those still at home and this can account for some of the difference, there are other reasons that nursing homes see so many falls each year.
For one thing, medication is dispensed freely to residents of most nursing homes, something that can help as well as hurt. Many medications affect coordination and can cause confusion, especially antipsychotics which are routinely overprescribed to nursing home patients, with more than 20 percent of all nursing home residents taking at least one antipsychotic. The side effects of these powerful drugs can greatly increase the chance of a nursing home patient falling.
Another reason nursing homes tend to see so many deadly falls is that most facilities simply do not have enough staff to sufficiently monitor residents properly. Patients are frequently injured getting up to go to the bathroom after ringing for assistance and then waiting for long stretches with no response. An overworked nursing staff means there are not enough workers to look after each patient and help them get to the bathroom safely. Experts say if there were enough properly trained staff around then almost no patients would ever have to fall because the problem is so easily prevented.
Besides increasing staffing levels, nursing homes can also take smaller steps to minimize the risk of falls. Installing motion-detector alarms, setting beds at a low height and placing a protection mat near the bed to provide better grip are all ways of minimizing the risk of serious injuries associated with falls. Too many facilities avoid making these changes out of a desire to avoid spending money. The benefits of thousands of saved lives far outweigh the relatively small expense associated with making such changes. Hopefully nursing home operators realize that everyone, including their own bottom line, benefits in the long run if residents are safe and healthy.