Falls in Nursing Homes
Every year, many Americans sustain injuries from falls in nursing homes. These injuries can have life-altering and sometimes life-threatening complications. If your loved one’s injuries from a fall were sustained because of the negligence or abuse of nursing home staff, they – or possibly you – have the right to hold the at-fault parties responsible.
The team at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm is here to help.
We offer a free consultation where we can evaluate the details of your case and explore your options for recovering compensation. If we believe you have a case, we will investigate the details of the accident to determine liability and pursue compensation to the fullest extent of your loved one’s injuries. You pay nothing out of pocket or anything upfront. We take our fee from the settlement they get you. That means we only get paid if you do. We offer a free consultation.
Consider these statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Up to 27% of falls occur due to environmental hazards (ex: slippery floors)
- Up to 75% of residents suffer from a fall every single year
- 35% of elderly fall injuries are to those who cannot walk
- Up to 20% of falls at nursing homes result in serious injuries
- Up to 6% of nursing home falls result in bone fractures
- Approximately 1,800 residents die each year from falls at nursing homes
Beyond this, it is estimated that 1,800 patients die every year as a result of a fall at a nursing home.
Why do Nursing Home Patients Suffer Fall Injuries?
Nursing homes are extremely susceptible to falls due to medical conditions that required them to move into the facility in the first place. So residents are not only vulnerable, but when falls do occur, the subsequent injuries and decline in overall health are often severe.
The Most Common Causes of Nursing Home Falls Include the Following:
- Muscle weakness or problems with walking
- Environmental hazards such as poor lighting or slippery floors
- Medications such as sedatives
- Changes in medication type or dosage
- Moving without assistance
- Improper care of the patient’s feet
- Shoes that do not fit properly
- Missing or improper use of walking aids
Nursing Home Fall Prevention
Proper fall prevention measurements ensure that residents are at minimal risk of injury. Fall prevention requires caregiver and facility intervention, including:
- Exercise and physical therapy to improve balance, strength, and gait.
- Providing residents with hip pads to prevent hip fractures in the event of a fall.
- Safety aids to help residents navigate the facility, including raised toilet seats, grab bards, lowered beds, and hallway handrails.
- Asking patients about their last eye checkup and ensuring glasses precrpitions are up to date.
- Carefully reviewing patient’s medications and health states to identify risks of dizziness, confusion, and balance issues.
Common Injuries in Falling Accidents
Some of the most common fall injuries in nursing homes include:
During a falling accident, a sudden force is placed on the bones. Seniors have bones that are more fragile. Bones like the hip, wrist, and ankle are extremely susceptible to breaking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 95% of hip fractures in adults over the age of 65 are the result of falls. Hip fractures are particularly dangerous for seniors, as studies show that up to 50% of patients who fracture a hip die within six months of the injury.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)
The CDC reports that for adults aged 65 and older, falls are the most common cause of TBIs. While Traumatic Brain Injuries can significantly vary in seriousness, these injuries can quickly become life-threatening in the elderly.
Sprained Wrists or Ankles
While sprained ankles and wrists are common injuries during falling accidents, these injuries can be extremely painful and take months to fully heal. During the healing process, movement and normal activities are restricted, and the individual’s quality of life is affected.
There are a number of different types of injuries that seniors can sustain because of falling accidents, including:
- Herniated disks: Soft disks in the spine push out through a tear in the tough exterior casing
- Compression fractures: Weakened bones in the spine crumple because of a sudden force of a fall, among other causes
- Spinal Stenosis: An injury to the spine from a fall displaces a bone in the spine, damaging the contents of the spinal canal
These are a few possible kinds of injuries your loved one may have because of a falling accident in a nursing home. To find out what options you have for recovering your losses, contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm today.
For a free legal consultation, call 800-934-6555
Receiving Compensation After a Fall Injury in a Nursing Home
Every case is different. However, we have worked on cases like yours before, and types of damages that victims were awarded in those cases include:
- Medical costs, such as hospital stays, ambulance rides, surgical procedures, medication, doctor’s examinations, and therapies
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of quality of life
If you lost someone you love because of a nursing home fall caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. Compensation that you may recover after a wrongful death claim includes:
- Funeral and burial costs
- Lost wages from time away from work tending to your loved one
- Out-of-pocket costs associated with the accident or care of your loved one
- Medical costs left to your family
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
These are just a few possible types of awards that may be recovered after a falling injury in a nursing home. You may be entitled to these and others if you qualify.
Proving Liability After a Fall in a Nursing Home
In order to prove liability after a falling accident in a nursing home, we must show that the four elements of negligence exist. These include:
- Duty of Care: The nursing home had a duty to provide your loved one with a reasonable standard of care
- Breach of Duty: The nursing home breached their duty, and one or multiple parties were negligent or abusive
- Causation: The breach of duty caused your loved one to fall
- Damages: Your loved one sustained damage because of that falling accident
In general, the breach of duty in these cases can be the greatest challenge to prove. That said, we have worked on many cases like these before and are proud of the results we achieved in those cases.
Cause of Falls
home oftentimes has to do with the fact that they want constant monitoring to ensure their loved ones’ safety and care. While some falls are genuine unavoidable accidents, falls in nursing homes, according to the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, may classify as a sign of elder abuse and neglect.
Causes of Falls in Nursing Homes
An elderly resident could simply miscalculate a step or fail to properly find their footing; however, nursing homes have a responsibility and obligation to carefully monitor and ensure that every senior under their care receives proper attention to minimize the risks of falls in older people. Some causes of falls that occur in nursing homes include:
- Overmedicated or undermedicated residents, leading to confusion or dizziness.
- A lack of adequate lighting, handrails or guardrails both in private rooms and common areas.
- Failure to supervise during group activities.
- Failure to supervise when a resident requests assistance going to the restroom, or leaving their bed or wheelchair for any reason.
- Inadequate supervision throughout the day.
- Inadequate nursing home employee training or failure to hire qualified employees.
- Failure to repair or clean hazardous or dangerous conditions, such as loose rugs or wet floors.
- Failure to properly position a resident in their bed or wheelchair, leading to the resident attempting to reposition themselves, resulting in a fall.
There are several causes of falls. For this reason, every nursing home should create a personalized care plan for each elderly resident in their nursing home. The care plan should specifically include instruction if a resident has any kind of cognitive dysfunctional issues or receives medication that may make them drowsy or dizzy. These residents should receive additional attention and care to ensure that they do not fall at any time on the nursing home premises. Even without a fall risk listed on a personalized care plan, every resident should receive appropriate monitoring throughout the day to ensure that they do not fall.
Additionally, every nursing home should have specific protocols in place to prevent falls and fractures in their facility. For example, residents who live at a higher risk for falls should receive frequent checks to see if they need to go to the bathroom or need food or water so that they do not attempt to get up without assistance. Bed positions and bed rails placed appropriately ensure that residents can get in and out of bed safely. If a resident should not get out of their bed by themselves, a nursing home employee should monitor them closely. Finally, every nursing home should have skilled and trained employees that frequently monitor residents according to the established protocol. Every nursing home should ensure that their facility remains staffed appropriately so that understaffing does not result in elder neglect or abuse, which can lead to falls in a nursing home.
Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
In cases of nursing home neglect, overworked and understaffed nursing homes simply do not have the resources to ensure that every resident receives proper attention, which may lead to residents attempting to go to the bathroom or find a snack for themselves. Falls often occur when residents who need assistance walking become frustrated and attempt to walk somewhere on their own without help. In other cases, nursing home staff act negligently and fail to properly monitor and respond to the needs of nursing home residents, which may cause falls that result in serious injuries or even death.
When an elderly resident of a nursing home falls, they may suffer serious injuries and lose even more mobility. Oftentimes, an elderly person may begin a decline of health following a fall that resulted in a bone fracturing or breaking. In some cases, the fall can ultimately lead to months or years of medical treatments or the death of the elderly resident.
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How to Prevent Falls
Falls are the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in Americans age 65 years and older, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
Many nursing home residents are afraid of falls and often limit their physical activities and social interactions. Ironically, this can lead to a faster physical decline, depression, and lower self-esteem.
The NCOA offers several prevention programs at community centers and residential facilities. There are also simple things that you can do to prevent falls that could leave your spouse or parent injured.
Six Effective Ways on How to Prevent Falls
If you would like to know how to prevent falls, there are several things to keep in mind. Nursing home residents are more likely to fall because they are elderly and usually have an underlying health or medical condition that can make balance an issue. That is why talking to your loved one’s doctor is the first action for effective fall prevention, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic.
Certain Medical Conditions or Medications Increase Risk of Falls
Your doctor can explain the risk of falls as a result of certain medications. Some antidepressants, for example, can make you drowsy. Other medicines, like the ones often prescribed for high blood pressure, might make you feel dizzy. Your doctor might be able to prescribe alternatives or wean you off certain medicines.
Some health conditions can increase your risk of falls. Inner ear issues, poor eyesight, or numbness in your legs or feet can affect how well you walk. Ask your doctor to evaluate your walking style (gait), balance, and muscle strength.
The more you move, the stronger you become. Low impact exercise like walking can reduce the risk of falls by improving your muscle strength, balance, and coordination. (Always get your doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program.)
Other safe low impact exercises include:
- Water aerobics classes
- Tai chi
Many nursing homes have structured exercise classes with an instructor or physical therapist. It is worth investigating to see if there are programs for your loved one.
Use Proper Footwear
Some shoes can increase your risk of falls because they lack the proper support, or they impede your ability to regain your balance. This includes floppy slippers, high heels, or shoes with a slick sole. Take the time to get proper fitting shoes that give you plenty of grip and reduce the chance of slipping.
Make Sure There Is Good Lighting
Nursing homes should meet state and federal guidelines for well-lit hallways, elevators, and walkways. Make sure you have a bedside lamp that turns on easily for middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. You may want to replace the traditional light switch with a plate that glows in the dark or is illuminated.
Have Clear, Clutter-free Paths
Remove potential hazards from high-traffic areas like hallways, bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and living areas. Area or accent rugs are trip hazards, as are thresholds that are broken or uneven. Put a nonskid mat or rug in the bathroom.
Use Assistive or Adaptive Devices
Many older people use canes or walkers for balance when they are changing positions (from seated to standing) as well as walking. There are other assistive devices that can prevent falls. Nursing home showers have grab bars, but you can do more to prevent falls in the bathroom, where many falls happen. Get a sturdy plastic shower seat or bench and a handheld shower nozzle so you can stay safely seated while showering. You might also want a raised toilet seat with arms or grab handles for extra support.
Falls Are a Huge Healthcare Issue for Adults 65 and Older
Each year, one in four American adults age 65 and older experience a fall, according to the NCOA.
- An adult 65 or older is treated in the emergency room every 11 seconds, with 2.8 million emergency room visits for falls each year.
- An older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes leading to an average of 27,000 deaths each year.
- Falls are the most common factor in trauma-related hospital admissions, with over 800,000 hospital stays every year.
Falls Can Be a Sign of Negligence
Although older people have a propensity to fall, frequent falls may be a sign of nursing home abuse or neglect. Residents who receive substandard care or who are neglected or ignored by their caregivers are more at risk for falls. Any facility that turns a blind eye to abuse or neglect should be held liable for your loved one’s pain and suffering.
Changes in Medication
Some elderly adults require medication for different medical conditions. With many seniors in nursing homes needing medication, one of the responsibilities of a nursing home involves not only ensuring that they receive the proper medication but also noting any changes in their medication plans immediately. Changes in medication occur frequently, and the nursing home has a responsibility to ensure that any changes in medication, as well as side effects of the medication, remain updated on the resident’s care plan. While some medications themselves may have side effects, including dizziness or drowsiness, in many cases, when elderly residents begin to take these types of medications, these side effects can result in an increased risk of them experiencing a fall.
Medication and Fall Risks
Some medications come along with side effects that may cause drug-related fall incidents in nursing homes, according to a study conducted by the Department of Health Technology and Services Research. Some drugs that elderly residents take affect the central nervous system, such as psychotropic drugs, anti-anxiety drugs, and sedatives. These drugs can significantly alter a senior’s perception and cause drowsiness and fatigue. In other cases, medications may cause muscle weakness, which leads to an increased risk of falling. Other medications may simply have the side effect of dizziness, double vision, confusion, incoordination, and lethargy, which can prove temporary or permanent. When an elderly resident takes five or more medications, the combination increases their risk of falling.
Changes in Medication
Every elderly resident of a nursing home should have a personalized care plan that doctors established exclusively for them. This care plan should include all of that resident’s particular needs, from nutrition and mobility issues to physical and mental health conditions. The care plan should also have a detailed listing of all medications the resident needs, as well as times the resident should receive the medication, the dosage, and whether food or water should precede or follow the medication.
As elderly residents continue to age, they may suffer additional health challenges, and their physician may ultimately require that prescriptions change to better address their physical or mental health needs. A nursing home should have established rules and protocols to address changes in medications for their residents. Physicians’ orders, pharmacy prescriptions, and the preparation and administration of medications should always remain coordinated so that the nursing home resident receives the correct medication, in the correct dosage, at the correct time.
Additionally, any changes in medication may involve new side effects. Every nursing home resident and their families should receive communication regarding these new side effects. Most importantly, the nursing home staff employees should revisit the resident’s care plan from time to time. Certain patients receiving new medications, or changes in existing medications, may have a greater risk of falling, which would require the nursing home staff to provide additional attention and monitoring for those residents.
Changes in Medication and Nursing Home Negligence
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, if caregivers fails to manage their prescription drug use in nursing homes, their negligence may result in a resident suffering serious injuries or even death. Even if a nursing home does prepare and administer the changed medication to the nursing home resident correctly, they must then ensure that the nursing home resident receives care, attention, and monitoring if the medication places them at a higher risk of falling.
Nursing homes may hire employees who do not have the proper training or education necessary to properly care for residents. In some scenarios, the nursing home employee does not have the training or time to ensure that all residents requiring medication changes receive the attention and care they need. When elderly residents have changes in medication, they may suddenly feel disoriented, confused, or dizzy as they attempt to go to the bathroom or get out of their bed or wheelchair. Accidents may result in residents attempting to do daily tasks they previously performed without any issues. With the change in medication, the side effects, such as drowsiness, incoordination, or double-vision, can lead to an increased risk of experiencing a fall. Nursing home negligence occurs when an elderly person suffers from a fall after a medication change due to the inattention or lack of monitoring from the nursing home employees.
Muscle strength decreases as people age, and muscle strength remains critical to maintaining balance. As elderly adults lose muscle mass and muscle strength, muscle weakness and falls in older adults may occur, which may result in serious injuries or even death. Nursing homes have a duty and responsibility to ensure that they monitor and assist those elderly residents who suffer from muscle weakness in daily activities that may cause them to fall if they attempt to perform these activities without assistance. If a nursing home fails to ensure the proper care and assistance to residents, it may bear responsibility for nursing home negligence.
Muscle Mass and Strength
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the slow and gradual loss of muscle mass and strength in elderly people oftentimes results in functional impairment, the need to have assistance for daily activities, and an increased risk in the possibility of falling and suffering broken bones or internal injuries. Maintaining muscle strength in the elderly proves crucial as they age, and nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure that their residents receive proper nutrition, hydration, and appropriate exercise to keep their muscle mass and strength.
Muscle Weakness and Falls
Muscle weakness occurs in some elderly people – and even more so with elderly residents of nursing homes who may have even less of an opportunity to exercise or move frequently. Additionally, muscle weakness can occur due to certain medications that an elderly person may take or a lack of nutrition or hydration. Vitamin D deficiency can also contribute to muscle weakness and muscle loss.
Elderly adults may have to go to the hospital for hip fractures due to a fall. Falls can cause broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, or even create a fear of falling, which dramatically impacts the ability of an elderly person to do everyday activities. Inactivity can then decrease their muscle mass even more.
Consequences of Falls Due to Muscle Weakness
Any fall suffered by an elderly resident of a nursing home may result in lifelong medical complications – or even death. When an elderly resident has muscle weakness and falls and injures themselves, they may receive lacerations, bruising, internal injuries, or broken bones, and they may have to receive treatment in an emergency room. In some cases, they will need emergency surgery or many months of therapy. In those cases when an elderly person suffers a broken bone, internal injuries, or a traumatic brain injury, they may have to stay in bed, which causes them to lose even more muscle mass. Staying in bed may ultimately result in serious bedsores or infections.
Emotionally, elderly residents who fall may become fearful of moving and fearful that they may fall again. Some elderly residents who suffer from a fall tend to have an overall decline in physical and emotional health, which requires nursing homes to ensure that they uphold their responsibility and duty to elderly residents to prevent falls from those who suffer from muscle weakness.
Nursing Home Negligence
Nursing homes have a policy that every resident should receive a personalized plan of care that will directly address any medical, physical, or emotional needs of that senior resident. If any muscle weakness or muscle loss appears on that plan of care, then the resident should always receive proper nutrition, hydration, and if appropriate, exercise in order to attempt to mitigate any additional muscle weakness or loss.
If a nursing home has knowledge that a nursing home resident has muscle weakness or loss of muscle mass, making it difficult to rise from their bed or wheelchair or going to the bathroom by themselves, the nursing home should continually monitor them in order to assist them with these activities. If a nursing home facility fails to assist a resident in daily tasks that they need help with, they may bear liability for such negligence.
Elderly adults have a much higher risk of falling and injuring themselves for many reasons. Nursing home residents should receive proper attention and monitoring to ensure that they do not suffer any preventable falls, which could result in the need to go to the emergency room, surgery, medical complications, or even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) some falls in nursing homes happen because of environmental hazards. Environmental hazards usually represent preventable causes of accidents, and if your elderly loved one suffered a fall due to an environmental hazard, it may have resulted from nursing home negligence.
Examples of Environmental Hazards
Environmental hazards in a nursing home refer to those obstacles or dangers present in the common areas or personal areas of a facility that cause residents to stumble, trip, and fall. Some examples of environmental hazards include slippery floors, debris in walkways, improperly fitted or improperly maintained wheelchairs, poor lighting, improperly marked exit signs, loose rugs, faulty bed rails, beds at incorrect heights, and broken equipment. Caregivers should address these hazardous conditions to avoid any trips, slips, or falls attributed to an environmental hazard.
Injuries Resulting from Environmental Hazards
When any person suffers a fall, they may experience bruising, a fractured or broken bone, or possibly additional internal damage, depending on the severity of the fall. When an elderly person suffers a fall due to an environmental hazard, they may face permanent physical and emotional challenges.
Physically, if an elderly senior falls in the nursing home, they may have to immediately go to the emergency room and even receive surgery if they suffer internal injuries or bleeding. Additionally, some seniors may lose even more mobility or may even need to remain in bed. Bone breaks or fractures in elderly persons often lead to overall health decline since these seniors remain unable to move or function normally, which can lead to additional medical complications and more health issues. Bedsores can result from elderly residents that suffer from a fall and then remain bedridden. Many of the medical complications following a fall from an environmental hazard can involve life-long and permanent injuries.
These additional physical limitations, which often include pain and suffering, can have an emotional effect on nursing home residents as well. When an elderly person loses the ability to move independently, has a decline in muscle or physical function, and has an overall decline in health, they oftentimes also begin to suffer from depression or anxiety. They may feel anxious that they will fall again and develop a phobia regarding walking or moving about the nursing home. In other cases, some residents unable to walk develop serious depression regarding even more physical limitations placed on them as they age.
Environmental Hazards and Nursing Home Neglect
A well-run nursing home should prevent the majority of falls related to environmental hazards. Seniors who live in nursing homes typically have mobility issues and may live in poor health, which can include poor eyesight and balance. Every resident should receive appropriate foot care, shoes, walking aids, and attention to ensure the safety of nursing home residents.
Unfortunately, some nursing homes simply neglect the needs of their residents. Sometimes this may relate to understaffing issues, where nursing home employees simply do not have the time to properly attend to all of the needs of the residents as well as ensure the removal of environmental hazards. In other cases, nursing homes staff employees remain unqualified or untrained and simply do not have the knowledge to understand they need to ensure the safety of residents regarding environmental hazards. Finally, some nursing homes simply do not have employees that carefully monitor and attend to residents or carefully clean the facility to ensure the removal of environmental hazards. If your elderly loved one fell and injured themselves in a nursing home due to an environmental hazard, you may have a strong case for nursing home negligence.
When Neglect Leads to Nursing Home Falls
While not all injuries can be prevented, precautionary steps must always be taken to prevent falls at nursing homes. Upon admittance, all resident must be assessed for risk of falling. If a fall ever does occur, staff must identify and establish interventions to prevent future falls. If such precautions are not taken and your loved one suffers serious injuries, we can help you fight for full and fair compensation.