Falls are still a leading cause of death and hospitalization among elderly Americans, according to a new article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services now classify institutional falls as ”serious reportable events,” as systematic reviews estimate only 20 percent of falls can be prevented within hospitals.
“In the past decade, the prevention of falls, particularly involving older institutionalized patients, has become a focus for practitioners, researchers, policy makers, and accreditors,” write Samir K. Sinha, M.D., and Allan S. Detsky, M.D.
They continue: “Falls represent a leading cause of hospital admissions for trauma and deaths in older adults. Furthermore, 1 in 5 inpatients falls at least once during a hospitalization, and these falls can result in injuries, increased lengths of stay, malpractice lawsuits, and considerable incremental costs.”
Researchers suggest the easiest way to prevent falls is to reduce their chances of occurrence, mainly by limiting unsupervised patient movement and activity within care settings. High fall rates hint at poor care within hospitals for elderly patients.
However, manufacturers have begun to create new devices that severely limit the free movement of seniors in hopes they may avoid accidental falls. These devices replace the once common physical restraints.
Difficult to get out of chairs, enclosed beds, and even sock alarms now circumvent guidelines against the use of traditional restraints, Sharon K. Inouye, M.D., wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine.
Bedridden seniors lose physical functionality, and this loss increases their risk of falling. Environments that don’t encourage a patient’s ability to periodically transfer out of bed and promote walking can contribute to the rapid loss of function, at a rate as high as 5 percent a day.
Instead of providing unsupervised activity or limiting patient movement with technology, the researchers suggest a more balanced approach: focus on early and safe mobilization.
Since the elderly have more free time to partake in exercise classes, it is easier for them to engage in exercise regimens- especially group classes where they may socialize. Early mobilization may help improve seniors’ quality of life.
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