Preventing Falls: Structural and Design Changes to Facilities for the Elderly

We recently discussed the growing problem of severe and fatal injuries resulting from falls among the elderly population, as reported in an article in the New York Times. As most of us know, falls are a type of preventable injury. But what, precisely, can we do to prevent older adults from falling? And should residents in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities undergo greater education about the risks and dangers of falls?

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Education About Fall-Related Accident Prevention

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released statistics showing that the number of fall-related deaths and life-threatening injuries has risen drastically over the last decade, a number of facilities for the elderly began to think about ways to prevent falls and to ensure that elderly residents aren’t being neglected.

Do some methods work better than others when it comes to preventing falls among the elderly? The National Institute on Aging recently partnered with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to conduct a 5-year study that will spend $30 million to determine the best routes to fall prevention among seniors who currently live independently. It will be the largest study of its kind to date, but it won’t provide a substantial amount of information about falls in facilities where elderly residents can be monitored.

One of the problems in facilities is that a majority of the residents refuse to accept that they’re at greater risk of a fall-related injury. Many nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have offered educational sessions specifically for residents that provide information about “avoiding falls and improving balance and fitness.” Yet these kinds of sessions haven’t done a lot to prevent falls. Why? Most residents “will not go near them” until they’ve actually sustained a serious injury in a fall-related accident. In short, education doesn’t seem to be the path on which elderly residents can learn to take steps to help themselves. So what should facilities do?

Making Senior-Specific Physical Changes to Facilities

People of any age can suffer injuries in a slip and fall accident. Yet prevention methods are different depending upon the age of the likely victim. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), common ways to prevent falls in your residence include some of the following:

  • Storing objects within your reach so that you don’t have to use a ladder;
  • Keeping walkways clear of objects;
  • Making sure electrical cords aren’t in footpaths;
  • Adding handrails to staircases;
  • Using non-skid bathmats to prevent a water-related slip and fall accident in the bathroom;
  • Cleaning up liquid spills as soon as they occur.

However, when we’re talking about older adults, the causes of falls aren’t the same as they are for younger people. For persons over the age of 65, falls often happen because of problems with balance, eyesight, and general stability. As such, a number of nursing homes and other elderly facilities have taken some of the following steps to make bedrooms, bathrooms, and hallways safer for residents:

  • Changing stairway carpeting so that it’s not a uniform color. Placing bright stripes on alternate stairs can help older adults with blurred vision and limited depth perception to see the distinction among stairs.
  • Ensuring that the shower lip is a different color than the tile. For older adults, it can be difficult to see a shower lip when it’s the same white color as the tile. Changing these lips so that they’re black, for instance—and thus standing out against the white tile—can help to prevent an elderly resident from tripping when getting out of the shower.
  • Making sure that carpeting isn’t deeper than an eighth of an inch—any softer and it can prevent a serious tripping hazard for older adults who tend to shuffle when they walk.

Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have a duty to keep residents safe. If your parent or elderly loved one recently sustained injuries in a preventable fall, it’s important to discuss your case with a San Diego nursing home abuse attorney.

Photo Credit: Artis Rams

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