Prevent Nursing Home Falls and Head Injuries

The leading cause of serious injury and accidental death in nursing homes is that of accidental falls. At best, an accidental fall causes just a few scratches or some bruising, but older individuals are less resilient to sudden impacts, and usually suffer more serious injuries, such as broken bones, hip fractures, brain injuries, or even death. A fall sustained in the nursing home, even an accidental one, can be a sign of nursing home abuse, and should be reported as soon as it is discovered. Any fall, in which the resident has or may have struck his or her head, should be reported immediately to staff nurses and close relatives of the resident who fell.

Recent Study on Head Injuries From Falls

Head injuries sustained during a fall are unfortunately too common in the elderly population. A recent study found that out of the 60 percent of nursing home patients that fall each year, more than one-third of the falls (37 percent) involve a resident hitting his or her head, usually by striking the floor, but also on furniture, walking aids, or walls. Since any fall from a standing height has enough potential energy to cause damage to the brain on impact, the study set out to determine why elderly persons suffer such a high rate of head injury from falls compared to younger people.

The study analyzed video footage of 133 subjects as they fell a total of 227 times. It found that 87 percent of the time the falls occurred on a smooth or slick surface, such as vinyl or linoleum flooring. A head injury was more likely to occur when a person fell forward, rather than backward, and the study found that while many residents who fell forward attempted to catch themselves with their forearms to brace for impact, this action was largely ineffective at preventing a head injury. The study suggests that, due to factors such as slow reaction time and weaker than average muscle tone, elderly people are less effective at catching themselves as they fall, and thus they sustain more head injuries.

Results of a Fall

A number of symptoms can develop after a head injury, such as a loss of consciousness, coma, seizures, blood vessel, nerve or brain tissue damage, diminished capacity or confusion, emotional or behavioral changes, or sensory problems, such as hearing problems, or tunnel or double vision. All of these conditions can lead to further complications that could have a significant impact on how a person lives. For example, a head injury could strip a person of his or her ability to communicate, or even deprive him or her of the ability to hear. A head injury could also alter blood flow patterns in the brain in such a way as to modify the person’s personality and mood, affect his or her memory, or cause brain damage. Death could even result if the injury is severe enough, or if there are fatal complications after the fall.

If your loved one has suffered from a fall in a nursing home, and/or sustained a head injury from such a fall, please contact our Illinois Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect law firm at (847) 869-9100.

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Rebecca Schonnop et al., Prevalence of and Factors Associated with Head Impact During Falls in Older Adults in Long-Term Care, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 185, No. 17, October 7, 2013.