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Nursing home falls leave residents with facial traumas

If you have a grandparent, parent, spouse or other loved one who is a resident in a long-term care nursing facility, you may be worried about the level of care that they receive. You are right to be concerned. The Journal of the American Medical Association's (JAMA) findings indicate that many nursing homes fail to do all they can to prevent patients from falling.

When patients fall, they often suffer severe traumatic facial lacerations and injuries. Facial injuries are not just disfiguring - they can impair the resident's abilities to eat, drink, breathe and speak clearly. Suffering facial injuries in a fall can also make residents fearful, and thus, further limit their mobility. In time, they can wind up bed-bound and subject to the host of problems that impairment can bring.

Look at the numbers

In this study, scientists looked at data provided by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. They studied incidents of facial trauma in nursing home residents age 61 or older.

Researchers discovered 109,795 nursing home residents "who required emergency department care for facial trauma." The most vulnerable appeared to be elderly women, who suffered the larger proportion of injuries as they aged.

Two of the most common injuries were lacerations (44.3 percent) and soft-tissue injuries (41.8 percent). More than 12 percent of those cases had broken facial bones, usually orbital and nasal fractures.

Most of the facial injuries occurred when nursing home residents stumbled into walls, doors and furniture. Nearly 25 percent happened as the patients tried to either get in or out of bed.

"Never events"

Injuries from slip-and-falls are considered to be preventable "never events." A never event is defined as one of 29 "adverse medical event[s] that can result in death or significant disability" by the National Quality Forum.

JAMA's study arose, in part, because of the preventability of these serious injuries. The Association concluded -- based on 100,000 of these types of injuries studied over a five-year period -- that these injuries rack up health care costs substantially.

What you can do

Of course, as loving relatives, your concerns are for the patients and not the facilities' bottom lines. It's important to ask about staffing levels when looking into various nursing homes. Inadequately staffed facilities are likely to have more patient injuries due to a lack of supervision.

If you suspect the facility where your loved one fell and suffered facial trauma was negligent and/or understaffed, you may want to pursue legal action against those responsible for the resident's care.

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