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Avoiding Falls to Keep Seniors Safe

Learn more about about keeping your elders protected

We know that more mature men and women face different dangers when they fall. As bones age they are likely to become brittle, and cuts and bruises take longer to heal. At Hoffman DiMuzio, we want to protect our clients as best we can.  We offer you the following information in the hopes that it will keep you safe.

Falls are Especially Dangerous for Seniors

Seniors who fall often suffer life altering injuries. In the United States, it is estimated that one-third of seniors over the age of 65 will fall this year. Estimates rise to one-half for seniors over the age of 80. In 2010, falls were the leading cause of death from injury among New Jersey residents age 65 and older. More than 18,000 older Americans die every year as a result of injuries sustained in a fall. Many times these falls occur when the person is a resident at a nursing home. Often, these falls could have been prevented. This is why it is important for anyone who is caring for a senior in to understand why they fall and how these falls can be prevented.

There are two reasons it is important to raise awareness about how to prevent our Seniors from suffering avoidable falls. First, it is easy and inexpensive to take the steps necessary to reduce the number of falls. Second, the severe injuries our Seniors suffer in these falls usually can't be fixed. The most common injuries are fractures to the legs, hips, pelvis, and arms; as well as closed head injuries. Surgery to repair the fractures is often impossible due to other medical conditions. Many times, the injuries prevent them from ever walking again. Their families often describe the fall as the, “beginning of the end."

Many Falls in Nursing Homes can be Prevented

Many falls in nursing homes can be prevented. The admissions director at a nursing home will tell you that a nursing home’s job is to take care of people who cannot safely live at their own home. When considering if to accept a new resident, the nursing home needs to ask the family and doctor what led him or her to the decision to place the individual in a nursing home. Then the nursing home needs to develop an understanding of what needs to be done to provide that individual with a safe living environment. A good nursing home will create a culture were preventing falls is given a high priority, and stressed repeatedly.

The good news is that the precautions that can reduce the amount of falls are simple to institute and to follow. The first step is for the nursing staff to analyze if a particular resident is at a higher risk for falls. Nursing homes are required to use a form known as a Fall Risk Assessment to figure this out. The form assigns a score to predetermined factors specific to each resident. Some of the factors to be considered include side effects from medications, cognitive impairments, and prior falls. The score determines if a particular resident is at a high risk for falls. If the nursing home does not consider fall risk, there is little chance the appropriate measures necessary to prevent that resident from suffering an avoidable fall were followed.

It is the job of the resident’s physician to decide which measures are appropriate. These measures are known as the “doctor’s orders.” In the nursing home setting, the doctor’s orders are nothing more than a set of instructions specific to each resident that the nursing staff must follow. It is the nursing home’s obligation to communicate with the doctor and obtain these instructions. Some of the instructions ordered by the doctor will be intended to prevent falls; such as a toileting schedule. A toileting schedule is when the staff escorts the resident to the bathroom at regularly scheduled times. Toileting schedules are used to prevent instances when a senior with cognitive impairment, who needs assistance to safely use the bathroom, will get out of bed and try to use the restroom by themself. Many times, when found on the ground after a fall, they will say that they were trying to use the bathroom. These residents either forget that they needed assistance, or attempt to go alone after long delays when the staff does not answer the call bell. Other types of instructions from the doctor will be intended to reduce the severity of any injury; such as lowering the resident’s bed closer to the ground and surrounding it with protective mats.

Unfortunately, many nursing homes fail to even consider if a new resident is at a high risk for falls. When they fail to consider fall risk, they fail to obtain the instructions from the resident’s doctor. When the nursing home fails to obtain the instructions, their staff will not know what needs to be done to prevent falls. This is why significant injuries from falls that could have been prevented frequently occur in nursing homes. There are times when we need to accept that a fall would have been difficult to prevent. However, this does not include times when a nursing home is paid for their promise to safely care for a senior, and the nursing home fails to do so.

Tips to Reduce Avoidable Falls

Here are some steps you can take to lower the risk that your loved one will fall and suffer a potentially life altering injury:

  1. Ask your loved one’s doctor if they are at a high risk for falls.
  2. Schedule an appointment to have your loved one’s vision checked at least once a year.
  3. Ask the doctor or pharmacist to review the side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  4. Encourage use of appropriate footwear. The safest shoes tend to have lower heels, non-slip soles, and a secure fit with laces or straps. In the nursing home setting, non-slip slippers should be provided to the residents.
  5. Inspect your home for tripping hazards, such as wires and phone cords away from hallways and stairways.
  6. Install nightlights in bathrooms, bedrooms, and hallways.
  7. Install grab bars in your tub or shower.
  8. Install non-skid liners under rugs.
  9. Encourage exercise as much as possible. Exercise increases strength, flexibility and balance. This includes physical therapy for nursing home residents, which is often not provided. Ask your loved one’s doctor if they should be receiving physical therapy.
  10. Lower your loved one’s bed to make it closer to the ground, and position it in the corner of the room. Place protective mats around the bed to reduce the severity of any injuries.
  11. Institute a toileting schedule where encourage trips to the bathroom had regularly scheduled intervals. Seniors with cognitive difficulties not capable of walking to the bathroom by themselves often forget this when they experience the need to use the bathroom.

Contact a reputable attorney today

If you wish to discuss other ways to lower the chance your loved one is injured at a nursing home, or to discuss your family's legal rights relative to your experiences with a nursing home, feel free to call Ernest L. Alvino, Jr., at Hoffman DiMuzio, 856-381-4837. Ernie limits his practice to representing families who experience nursing home abuse and neglect, and he will explain to you what the nursing home was required to do.

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