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Falls: A leading cause of injuries in nursing homes

Falls happen often in nursing homes. Sometimes, they're not a result of foul play but are due to an elderly person's weakness or balance issues. Other times, they are a result of nurses or aides who don't come to the elder's aid when needed.

Millions of older people live in nursing homes, and many of them fall. These people, usually 65 years of age or older, may not tell others that they've fallen. That's part of the risk, because without knowledge that a person has fallen or why, it's hard to address the issue.

Why are falls so devastating to elders?

Falls are serious, because one out of five leads to broken bones or head injuries. For instance, an elderly person getting up out of bed might fall and hit their head on the ground or a nearby table. Similarly, someone using the restroom could fall and hit their head on the bathtub. In both cases, head injuries and broken bones are possible.

Around 800,000 patients are hospitalized for fall injuries every year because of the falls causing hip fractures or head injuries. In fact, around 95 percent of all hip fractures are caused by falls, most of which are a result of falling sideways. Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What makes a person more likely to fall?

A person is more likely to fall as a result of:

  • Lower body weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Hazards in the nursing home, like uneven steps, flooring or throw rugs
  • Poor footwear
  • The use of medications, like antidepressants, sedatives and tranquilizers
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Trouble with balance and walking

Other causes for falls include:

  • Slow response times from nurses or aides
  • Abuse or rough treatment
  • Reaching or stretching for medical devices

How can you help your loved one avoid falls?

One of the best things to do in a nursing home is to encourage the use of a call button when your loved one wants to get up or move around, especially if there is a fall risk. Placing the call button close to the bed, chair or other stable seating area is also important, so your loved one can reach it without the risk of falling to get to it. Also, place all medications, shoes and medical devices within reach, so your loved one doesn't have to walk far to get them.

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