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Should Pennsylvania nursing homes be alarmed about falls?

Nursing homes in Pennsylvania typically advertise their long-term care facilities as places where senior citizens with medical needs will feel at home and cared for. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities provide many other services for residents as well, including recreation. Unfortunately, too many nursing facilities also have higher rates of certain accidents that make their environments more dangerous to their residents, as a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in September.

According to the CDC, falls in nursing homes are too frequent. The typical nursing home reports 100 to 200 falls each year, and other incidents probably go unreported. Residents average 2.3 falls per year. Those who cannot walk make up a large number of fall injury victims. Unfortunately, too many nursing home falls have fatal consequences - nearly 20 percent.

Falls do not always occur from walking accidents. Nursing home falls often result from environmental hazards, such as wet floors, and improperly adjusted or maintained equipment, such as wheelchairs. Such hazards account for 16 to 17 percent of falls among residents. Medications also contribute to falls. The CDC found that drugs that affect the central nervous system, such as anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives, increase the risk of fall injuries for older adults. The health conditions of nursing home residents also makes them more prone to falling. Many are frail and weak. Many of them cannot walk with help, have foot problems, have trouble seeing well and easily lose their balance.

Nursing homes have a responsibility to address any issue that threatens the safety of residents. These facilities must combine medical treatment with rehabilitation and changes to the environment. Although preventing falls and injuries in nursing facilities is definitely a challenge, not doing so will almost certainly have legal consequences for nursing homes when patients die from falls.

Source: CDC.gov, "Falls in Nursing Homes", Accessed on Dec. 11, 2014

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