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Head Injuries Top Concern in Nursing Home Falls - Could a new "Magic Carpet" Help?
More than a third of senior citizens who suffer falls while living in long-term care facilities sustain head injuries according to a new study by Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Personal injury attorneys with Orlando's Todd E. Copeland Associates confirm that statistics are similar with nursing homes here in the United States.
Analyzing video footage of 227 falls suffered by 133 seniors living in a single long-term care facility, researchers found that victims struck their heads in 37 percent of incidents. Of them, 63 percent hit their heads on floors; 16 percent on furniture and 13 percent on walls. For those whose heads hit a floor, that flooring most often was of hard materials such as tile or linoleum. Unlike young people who suffer falls, seniors are unable to effectively break their falls using their arms, in part because they're not as strong as they once were, researchers say.
Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) back up the study's findings. According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury death and the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma among people age 65 and older. In 2010, 2.3 million elders were treated in US emergency departments for nonfatal fall injuries and more than 662,000 of them were hospitalized. That same year, upwards of 21,700 older adults died from unintentional fall injures. As America's aging population figures grow, those statistics are likely to grow.
To help curb such incidents, researchers the UK's University of Manchester are developing a high-tech "magic carpet" designed to predict and help prevent falls by seniors in homes and nursing home facilities. Similar to a tomographic technique used in some hospital scanners, the carpet uses pressure-sensitive plastic optical fibers laid beneath a regular carpet to transmit walking patterns into 2-D computer images. The images alert caregivers to a fall so that they can respond immediately and get medical attention if necessary. But more importantly, the images can be used to detect subtle or steady deterioration in a senior's balance or mobility. At that point, caregivers can address the issue by helping seniors to exercise in ways that will strengthen their muscles and improve their balance and walking ability; reviewing prescribed medications that may contribute to a patient's fall risk; or making safety improvements to the facility, including installing handrails or improving lighting.
In the meantime, if you are seeking a nursing home for your elder loved one, ask about the patients' fall rate and find out how and how quickly caregivers handle fall situations; make sure lighting is adequate and handrails are installed in hallways; and check flooring types, making sure that hard surfaces are covered with non-slip rugs. Check the sturdiness of bed rails and confirm that they've been installed according to manufacturer's instructions. Also insist that physical restraints not be used regularly. Restricting a senior's mobility can lead to muscle weakness and reduce physical function, placing patients at a higher risk for fall-related injuries and deaths.
If your elder family member suffers a fall at a care facility, get him or her medical help immediately, even if there are no immediately apparent injuries. Then, contact a nursing home injury attorney. Central Florida's Todd E. Copeland & Associates can be reached at 407-999-8995 in Orlando or 407-847-7277 in Kissimmee.