November 19, 2014

Falls an Increasing Problem Among Seniors

According to a recent New York Times article, an aging population coupled with an increase in people living with chronic health conditions has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of seniors who fall and suffer serious, sometimes fatal, injuries.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 24,000 seniors died after a fall in 2012, almost twice the number of such deaths in 2002. In 2012, more than 2.4 million seniors were treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries, representing a 50% increase in the last decade.

Likewise, the article notes a parallel increase in the rates of diseases linked to falls, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease.
This presents a challenge for long-term care facilities, who must balance residents’ safety with their desire to live autonomously. Some facilities have taken measures such as:
  • installing floor lighting that automatically turns on when a resident gets out of bed;
  • requiring facility architects and designers to wear tinted glasses to see rooms as a senior might;
  • consistently measuring bed and toilet heights to determine a resident’s need for grab bars;
  • installing energy-absorbing flooring in bathrooms to lessen the impact of a fall;
  • adding accent stripes on stairs so residents can clearly see the line in between each step; and
  • conducting fall education programs and safety fairs.
The article notes that Medicare will not pay to treat an injury resulting from a hospital fall. Some health policy experts suggest that the agency extend this policy to nursing homes. In many states, if a nursing home is found responsible for a resident’s fall, it must pay the state a fine.