Nursing Home Injury Prevention

Can Nursing Home Injury Be Prevented?

The incidence of injuries occurring at nursing facilities is a growing concern.

While only about five percent of the elderly population resides at nursing homes, about 20 percent of the falls in the elderly and accidents involving the elderly occur in these homes.

About 2,000 residents of nursing home facilities die each year from injuries, usually related to falls. Not all injuries are preventable, but those nursing facilities that are considered to be high quality have significant safety and training programs in place that serve to minimize the risk of injury among their residents. 

How Dangerous are Nursing Facility Injuries?

The elderly that reside at nursing facilities sustain injuries at a higher rate than the general elderly population. A reason for this is the fact that the nursing home population is older overall, are more likely to be sick or more physically frail when compared to the general population of the elderly. This difference in the population of the elderly does not completely account for the discrepancies in the incidence of injuries.

These are some important statistics about injuries in the nursing home setting:

  • Each year, about a quarter of all nursing homes receive a citation for causing the serious injury or death in a resident
  • About 5 thousand deaths per year are due to the negligence of nursing home staff that result in injuries
  • About 10 percent of all nursing home residents suffer from some degree of bed sores
  • Nursing home residents have 2 times the risk of falling when compared to other elderly people

Why Do Nursing Home Injuries Occur?

There are a variety of reasons why injuries happen at a greater rate in nursing homes. Because this is a population that is less mobile and frailer than other elderly people, they are more likely to sustain injuries.  About one quarter of these injuries are due to muscle weakness and problems with walking and movement.

Nursing home residents are more likely to be medicated or even overmedicated with substances that are likely to be sedating, cause dizziness or impair the judgment of the nursing home resident. Patients who are taking antipsychotic medication, sedatives and anxiety medications have a greater risk of suffering from some form of accident.

Some accidents occurring at nursing homes (perhaps as many as 27 percent of all cases) are the result of physical obstacles and physical hazards located in the rooms and hallways of the facility. This can include things like slippery floors, narrow stairs, beds being at the wrong height, objects placed in the hallway and insufficient lighting at the facility. These are obstacles that make moving around safely more problematic for elderly and unbalanced nursing home residents.  

Another significant cause of injuries in the nursing home includes the neglect and inattention of the nurses, certified nursing assistants, and other staff members at the nursing home. A large number of nursing facilities are dangerously understaffed.

With an insufficient number of staff members, the facilities have to struggle to adequately provide the monitoring necessary to keep patients safe and make sure that the physical environment is as harmless as possible for every resident.

How Can These Types of Injuries Be Prevented?

Nursing home injuries may be prevented if the staff at the facility remains vigilant and works on a consistent basis to improve the health and safety of each nursing home resident and improve the safety of the physical space.

The CDC has weighed in on the subject and recommends that nursing facilities take on a multifaceted approach to reduce the number of accidents and injuries.

Some things a nursing home can do to prevent injuries includes the following:

  • Minimizing the use of sedative medications that are most likely to lead to injury
  • Assessing each nursing home resident individually and addressing their chances of sustaining any type of injury
  • Constant educating of staff members regarding patient risks and strategies to prevent accidents from occurring
  • Providing consistent system checks that help to prevent overmedication of residents and the chemical restraint of residents
  • Removing room and hallway hazards and putting safety features in place to make the facility easier to navigate
  • Engaging in exercise programs and supplementing the residents with vitamin D in order to decrease the rate of injury and improve patient mobility

By taking part in these steps and implementing other safety rules, a nursing home will be able to reduce the chances of injury sustained by their nursing home residents.

Another way of reducing injury involves hiring quality staff members. With more quality medical professionals working at the nursing home, residents can be given more care and individual attention.

Greater numbers of health professionals can do the following:

  • Ensure that patients are turned in bed more frequently in order to prevent bed sores from occurring
  • Reassess the mobility issues and safety problems of the residents on a more consistent basis
  • Monitor aspects of the mental health, physical health and medications the residents are taking
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Dr. Christine Traxler

Christine Traxler, MD is a retired family practice physician, graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in 1986, and freelance writer, having worked with patients in rural Minnesota for two decades. She has written several books on medical topics and currently resides in Minneapolis, MN, where she works as a freelance writer on medical topics.

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