Assisted Living and Risks of Resident Falls

Adult children of elderly women and men tend to take comfort in the idea that their mothers and fathers are residing in an assisted living community. They take solace in the fact that their parents are in assisted living because adult daughters and sons understand that their mothers and fathers are in a community designed to optimize safety. With that said, falls represent the most commonly occurring type of accident among residents of assisted living communities in the United States.

Because of the risk of a person in assisted living falling, there are some tactics that need to be employed in order to reduce the possibility of a resident falling and to minimize the level of injury if an individual does experience this type of accident. With this in mind, in this article we discuss a range of issues associated with assisted living and risks of resident falls:

  • Facts about falls in assisted living
  • Facility design and fall risk reduction
  • Complete background information on resident
  • Legal duty of assisted living community to reduce risk of falls
  • Most common fall injuries
  • Proper staffing to minimize fall risk

Facts About Falls in Assisted Living

As mentioned at the start of this article, falls are the most commonly occurring type of injury causing accident that occurs in assisted living facilities across the United States. Indeed, falls are the most common cause of injuries to seniors in the general population as well. 

Each year, 33 percent of people over the age of 65 (including those in an assisted living community) will experience a fall. Of that number, upwards to 30 percent of fall victims will suffer moderate to severe injuries.

Statistically speaking a goal of an assisted living community is to keep the rate of resident falls at or below the rate associated with the general population. Because of the nature of assisted living facilities, residential centers with multiple seniors in a relatively close living space, the prospect for a higher rate of fall accidents is a real worry from a statistical standpoint.

Facility Design and Fall Risk Reduction

One of the primary ways in which an assisted living community is able to reduce fall risk is found in the way a particular residential facility is designed. Assisted living communities are strongly encouraged to ensure that these design and associated features are incorporated into their facility buildings:

  • Install good lighting throughout a facility
  • Minimize steps and stairs in an assisted living community as must as possible
  • Where steps and stairs are necessary or cannot be avoided, install rails on both sides
  • Install ramps as an alternative to stairs in an assisted living facility
  • Install grab bars in bathrooms
  • Install easily accessible tubs and showers 
  • Remove any throw rugs from facility
  • Ensure that walkways and sidewalks in and around facility are in prime condition

Complete Background Information on Resident

During the admission process, a complete background assessment should be made of a new resident. One of the areas of consideration should be a thorough assessment of fall risk vulnerability. This fall risk assessment needs to consider factors that include:

  • Being over age 60
  • Weakness
  • History of prior falls
  • Visual impairments
  • Chronic conditions, such as dementia, arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease
  • Gait or balance issues
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Taking multiple medications, particularly medications for anxiety and chronic pain
  • Improper use of assistive devices

Legal Duty of Assisted Living Community to Reduce Risk of Falls

An assisted living facility does have a legal duty to its residents when it comes to protecting against falls. An assisted living community has a legal duty to ensure that a facility is in a reasonably safe condition. An assisted living community has the legal duty to take steps needed to ensure that there are no unreasonable hazards on the premises that unnecessarily exposure a resident to falls and injury.

An assisted living facility does not need to protect against all falls and injuries. That is not a reasonable objective. Rather, an assisted living facility must take reasonable steps to protect against resident falls and injuries of a kind that would be undertaken by a similarly situated assisted living center. 

Most Common Fall Injuries

The most commonplace injuries sustained in falls involving assisted living community residents include:

  • Broken bones, of which broken hips oftentimes are considered the most serious. The reality is that for many elderly individuals, broken hips can have ultimately tragic consequences.
  • Traumatic brain injuries are another category of harm that can come from a fall in an assisted living community. Traumatic brain injuries can range from concussions to brain damage that can have more long-term, profound consequences 
  • Sprains are also among the injuries arising from falls in assisted living communities. As an aside, people who suffer sprains in falls are more vulnerable to further injury whilst sprains heal or resolve.
  • Bruises represent yet another category of injuries suffered by women and men who fall as residents of assisted living communities. 
  • There are many instances in which a resident of an assisted living community sustains different types of injuries in a fall. For example, a resident might sustain broken bones, bruises, and a traumatic brain injury as the result of a single fall in an assisted living facility. 

Proper Staffing to Minimize Fall Risk

Finally, when it comes to strategies to reduce the risk of resident falls and injuries in assisted living, proper staffing is vital. Proper staffing to minimize the risk of falls comes in two forms:

First, there must always be an appropriate number of staff on duty to protect the safety and wellbeing of assisted living residents.

Second, assisted living staff must be properly trained to provide appropriate assistance to community residents in order to minimize the risk of falls and associated injuries. 

In conclusion, there are strategies that can minimize the risk of falls among residents of assisted living communities. Understanding that there are no foolproof ways in which to perfectly prevent assisted living residents from falling, companion tactics are designed to minimize the extent of injuries when falls do occur.