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Elderly people in nursing homes are the most likely to fall

Falls can be more serious for seniors and the elderly than they are for younger people. In fact, in too many cases they are fatal. The problem of falls in nursing homes, where over 1.4 million people who are 65 and over live, is particularly bad.

Every year, about 1,800 nursing home residents die as the result of injuries sustained in a fall. That's about one-fifth of all fatal falls sustained by people who are at least 65. Many non-fatal fall-related injuries leave people permanently disabled. Even those who aren't often develop a fear of falling, which can decrease their mobility and cause them to feel depressed, isolated and helpless.

It's been estimated that somewhere between 50 and 75 percent of nursing home residents fall at least once (on average, 2.6 times) each year. That's over twice the rate of falls for seniors and elderly people not in nursing homes. Over a third of nursing home fall victims don't even walk.

So why are falls so much more likely in places where families assume that their loved ones are being watched over and cared for? The most common causes of nursing home falls are gait issues and muscle weakness. Environmental hazards, including poor lighting, wet floors, poorly-fitted or maintained wheelchairs and incorrect bed height, are also blamed for a large number of falls. Medications, and particularly a change in medication, can lead to nervous system changes that make a person more likely to fall. Many falls occur when someone is moving or being moved from one location to another, such as from a chair to a bed.

Nursing homes are supposed to take steps to prevent falls, such as installing handrails and other accessibility products. They should ensure that staff members are trained to prevent falls and assess individual risk factors. They should work with patients to ensure that they are using their canes and other mobility devices correctly.

When you are looking for a nursing home, it's essential to do your homework. Medicare.gov has a page that ranks facilities throughout the U.S. This Nursing Home Compare page includes data on the "percent of long-stay residents experiencing one or more falls with major injury." This is just one source of information. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the managers and staff as well as the residents, if possible, when evaluating nursing homes for a loved one.

Source: Centers for Disease Control, "Falls in Nursing Homes," accessed April. 09, 2015

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