When a relative moves into a nursing home, they are placing their trust in the staff. Care staff ensures that your relative is taken care of in their golden years: properly fed, medicated (if applicable), and kept clean and healthy. But the elderly who live in nursing homes are vulnerable to more severe health issues simply due to age.
The most common injuries in people ages 65 and up involve slips and falls. Weaker immune systems and musculoskeletal structures mean a simple slip can lead to weeks of recovery due to injuries. Broken bones are especially prevalent after a fall.
Nursing homes should be havens for our elderly relatives, but all too often, they turn into traps. It’s up to relatives and care staff to ensure all residents’ rights are being respected and that they are properly cared for.
Fall Risk and Prevention
As we age, our body slowly weakens. This can affect all aspects of our health, including mobility and balance. Nursing home staff are trained to take certain precautions to help their residents maintain autonomy while trying to avoid slips and falls. But accidents can happen. A floor is slicker than expected, a stray cord wasn’t tucked away, or the resident tried to get around bed rails to stand despite the doctor’s orders to stay in bed.
No matter the reason, falls can be a severe risk for the elderly— some more than others. Nursing homes try to find a balance between protecting their residents and letting them maintain their freedom. Sometimes, it’s a matter of disconnect between the warnings from staff and what the resident understands of the risks. Other times, it can be pure stubbornness. Another cause of slips and falls is abuse at the hands of nursing home staff.
The CDC reports that millions of people ages 65 and older experience a fall, but less than half tell their doctor. The emergency room sees millions of fall-related injuries. Several factors can affect an elderly person’s risk of falling, including:
Vitamin D deficiency
Lower body weakness
To help your loved one lower their risk, you can encourage visiting their doctor to discuss health factors such as medications. You can also find strength and balance exercises and help them go through their home to remove hazards and add safety devices such as grab bars in the shower.
Many nursing homes are designed to minimize slips and falls, but even the most highly-rated facilities will see at least one fall.
Complications from Broken Bones
When an elderly person falls, they are at serious risk for broken hips and other bones and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). The most common breaks include the hip, pelvis, back, arm, hand, leg, ankle, and foot. Falling once also means the resident is at risk of falling again.
Injuries from a fall can also open elderly patients to complications. For example, limited mobility during their healing and rehab can lead to bed sores. Fractures in older adults, especially hip fractures, can also lead to pain issues, blood clots, muscle atrophy, mental deterioration, and even death.
Physical issues after healing include reduced physical health and bone density, impaired immune function, and limited mobility. These can all combine to reduce quality of life and depress the resident.
When to Contact an Attorney
While falls can happen regardless of the facility, some falls occur due to negligence or abuse. Two top causes of falls in nursing homes are dehydration/malnutrition and physical abuse. (The third is slip and fall accidents).
Dehydration and Malnutrition
Improper diet can lead to severe health complications in anyone, but the elderly are especially vulnerable. They can lose muscle strength, balance, coordination, and alertness. Without these, they are more at risk of slips and falls. Additionally, a lack of vitamin D and calcium means their bones, already weakening due to age, are more likely to break or fracture.
Nursing Home Abuse
Abuse in a nursing home generally comes in the form of neglect, but active malicious abuse also takes place across the United States. Staff members have faced serious consequences for kicking, pinching, pushing, and even slapping patients. If staff are not taking proper precautions or are actively harming your loved one, then your relative is more likely to suffer injuries and falls as a result.
Ideally, the wrongdoer would be caught and reported, but sometimes rotten apples are a symptom of a rotten barrel.
How to Help
If you suspect abuse or neglect in your loved one’s nursing home, the first step is to file a complaint with Adult Protective Services. This nationwide organization will conduct a thorough investigation to find any criminal abuse. You can also reach out to a nursing home abuse organization for advice or look into hiring a personal injury lawyer for your loved one.
Personal Injury Lawyers will take any findings from the APS as well as their own investigation to help you build a case. They will work closely with you to ensure your loved one’s rights are respected and the costs that resulted from the injury are covered. In the event of the resident’s death, a lawyer can help work up a settlement that covers funeral and burial costs as well. Compensation can’t replace your loved one, but it can help you cover the costs associated with what happened.
Nursing staff found guilty of nursing home abuse or neglect face severe penalties. It is important that they are held accountable and removed from their position to protect your loved one and the other residents at the nursing home. Some residents may choose to find a new nursing home if they were victims of abuse; it’s a personal decision, but your lawyer can help you and your loved one make the best decision moving forward.
If you suspect a loved one or elderly nursing home resident is being abused, please contact Adult Protective Services or Nursing Home Law Center, LLC at 1 (800) 926-7565.