Elderly at Risk for Falls: New Study Looks at Nursing Homes

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have published new data regarding the elderly and nursing home falls, finding that 21 percent of new residents experience a fall within their first month. In addition, the study, recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (www.americangeriatrics.org), finds that nursing homes staffed with higher numbers of certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, had a lower fall rate than those in nursing homes staffed with fewer CNAs.

Elderly Slip and FallThe researchers reviewed data of more than 230,000 newly admitted, first-time nursing home residents whose length of stay was at least 30 days. A comparison was made between the study population and the characteristics of each nursing home such as, staffing, profit and chain status, religious affiliation, hospital-based facility status, number of beds, the presence of a special care unit and funding.

Falls are a major concern for the elderly population, causing a high percentage of injuries and deaths occurring in this population. The major causes of falls in nursing homes are weakness or problems with walking and standing, issues with equipment such as nursing home beds and wheelchairs, or facility issues such as bad lighting or wet floors.

When an elderly person falls, the consequences can be significant. Not only can the fall result in an injury or disability that can lead to an overall decline in health and a reduced quality of life, but the fear of falling again may bring about feelings of helplessness, leading to depression and social isolation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), about 20 percent of deaths from falls in those over age 65 are residents of nursing homes. However, only about 5 percent of adults over the age of 65 live in nursing homes and researchers are attempting to uncover the reasons for such a high rate of fall-related death in this population.

The apparent link to Certified Nursing Assistant staffing levels is still unclear. CNAs are commonly used to care for the day-to-day healthcare needs of patients and are under the supervision of an RN or LPN certified nurse. Due to these recent findings, researchers suggest that further studies be undertaken to better understand the relationship between CNA staffing levels and reduced fall rates in nursing home patients.