Falls and Broken Bones From Nursing Home Abuse

Fall-related injuries are often a sign of nursing home abuse and those most vulnerable have the highest risk of being neglected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps annual statistics on nursing home falls nationwide and reports that in an average nursing home with 100 beds, approximately 100 to 200 falls are recorded each year. The actual number is probably even higher due to falls that go unreported by seniors and are unrecognized by family members or caregivers.

For many residents it is not the first time they have fallen. Those who fall are two to three times as likely to fall again, according to CDC statistics. As many as three out of four nursing home residents fall each year, two times the rate of elderly who are living in the community. Adults 65 and older are four times more likely to die from a fall-related injury if they live in a nursing home compared to those who live independently or with loved ones.

Nursing Home Fall Statistics

Falling in nursing homes is a very serious issue. Consider the following fall related statistics:

  • Falling is the largest single cause of emergency room visits among the senior population and the leading cause of death due to injury among the elderly
  • Eighty seven percent of all fractures in the elderly are due to falls
  • Falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions and 40% of all nursing home admissions
  • Forty percent of those admitted to nursing homes due to a fall never return to independent living—25% die within a year
  • About 10 to 20% of falls in homes for the elderly cause serious injury, but only 2 to 6 percent result in broken bones
  • Nearly 1,800 nursing home residents die each year from fall-related injuries.

Others who survive with minor bumps and scrapes often develop a fear of falling and see their functional disabilities decrease after experiencing a fall. They slip into depression, have feelings of helplessness and isolate themselves from others.

Why are there are so many falls in nursing homes?

All falls cannot be prevented no matter how many safe measures are followed. There are many reasons seniors fall, but some nursing home residents experience the following which contributes to their likelihood of falling:

  • Extenuating medical conditions. Medications the residents take can affect their movement especially if there is a recent change in the type of medicine or the dosage. Drugs that affect the central nervous system, especially sedatives or anti-anxiety drugs, are of particular concern. Risk of falling is especially elevated during the three days following any change in these types of medications.
  • Use of sleep medications which is not monitored. In May 2013 the U.S. National Library of Medicine reported a study that connected the use of nonbenzodiazepine sleep medication with nursing homes experiencing a high rate of falls and fractures. The study focused on hypnotic drugs such as eszopicione, zolpidem tartrate and zalepion. The study concluded that elderly patients taking these types of sleep medications were at an increased risk of falling. This risk was reported to be most significant for those who were taking the drug for the first time or those who suffered from cognitive difficulties.
  • Less mobility and maintenance of their balance. In general, nursing home residents are the oldest of the elderly population in the community. They do not have the resources and sometimes lack the ability to keep their bodies in a healthy condition to perform daily tasks.
  • Lack of cognitive ability and chronic diseases prevent normal functioning.
  • Muscle weakness and walking or gait problems, or walking aids that are not being used or maintained properly.
  • Shoes that do not fit well. The individual may also be in need of proper foot care.
  • Environmental hazards. These include wet floors, poor lighting, debris in walkways, improper exit signs, broken equipment, incorrect bed height and improperly fitted or maintained wheelchairs or mobility devices. These devices must also be easily accessible to each resident who requires them.

Nursing home supervisory personnel should keep in mind that failure to maintain a safe environment for residents can be grounds for a lawsuit against the nursing home. Per state and federal laws, victims of nursing home neglect and their loved ones can file civil damages for medical negligence, pain and suffering, wrongful death and other causes of action.

How to help someone that has fallen in a nursing home

If you notice your loved one has bruises, cuts or abrasions and you haven’t heard that something has happened, it is time to speak with your loved one as well as the supervision at the nursing home. If your loved one seems to have grown fearful of getting up and moving around, fear of falling (again) could be the issue.

Observe the staff to see whether they monitor residents as they are walking around the nursing home facility and notice whether the home uses bed and chair sensors that sound an alarm when residents attempt to get out of bed unassisted. Watch staff when they transfer a resident in and out of bed to see if they do so carefully and safely.

If you witness anything you believe is inappropriate or your loved one tells you of poor treatment, contact the nursing home’s supervision immediately. Homes for the elderly are also required to keep data on the number of falls that occur among residents at their facility. Ask to see this information if you have any doubts about possible abuse or negligence.

How falls in nursing homes can be prevented

Fall prevention in nursing homes presents many challenges. A combination of greater attention to medical treatment, rehabilitation and environmental changes seems to work well. Interventions may include:

  • Educating staff about fall risk factors and prevention strategies.
  • Assessing patients properly when they enter a facility and after a fall to address risk factors and make sure underlying medical conditions are being treated.
  • Changing the nursing home environment to make it easier for residents to move around the facility safely. This includes such things as installing grab bars, raising toilet seats, lowering bed heights and putting handrails in the hallways.
  • Teaching residents who are not cognitively impaired behavioral strategies to avoid potentially hazardous situations in the nursing home.
  • Offering residents exercise programs that can improve balance, strength, walking ability and physical functioning.
  • Making sure residents get regular eye exams.
  • Supervising those who use canes, walkers, etc. in the nursing home environment.
  • Assisting residents who need help going to the bathroom.

In studies of the use of various kinds of physical restraints on patients in nursing homes, it was found that their use did not decrease the number of falls and in fact had the opposite result in some instances. In addition, limiting a person’s freedom to move around leads to muscle weakness and reduces physical function which makes them more likely to be the victim of a fall. Bed rails do not appear to increase the risk of falls or fall-related injuries. Most injuries from bedrails come from outmoded design or failure to assemble them correctly.

Falls in nursing homes can be devastating

An elderly person may not be significantly injured from a fall, but if he or she is unable to get up on their own, the period of time spent immobile often affects the outcome on their health. Within 30 to 60 minutes of the fall, muscle cells start to break down. Getting help quickly after an immobilizing fall increases the likelihood of a return to independent living. Otherwise total recovery may be significantly delayed or never occur.

Dehydration, pressure sores, hypothermia and pneumonia may result if one is immobilized and cannot get up right away.

Who to turn to if you or a loved one has fallen

If a loved one has been injured due to a fall at an Ohio nursing home, he or she may be entitled to financial compensation from that nursing home. An experienced and knowledgeable nursing home attorney in your corner always gets the nursing home’s attention and often results in a change in the behavior of the management or ownership of that nursing home that prevents further problems.

At Slater & Zurz LLP, our nursing home abuse attorneys are highly skilled in bringing nursing homes to justice when they abuse or neglect their residents or fail to meet the level of care dictated by state and federal regulations. For additional information, please call us at 1-888-979-1606 or visit our website, slaterzurz.com and fill out a Free Case Review Form. Over more than 40 years in the practice of law, our firm has helped numerous victims and their loved ones win the justice they deserve.

We have offices in Akron, Cleveland, Canton and Columbus and can make arrangements to meet with you in locations throughout Ohio at your convenience.

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