As the population ages and people live longer, the number of elderly Americans who fall and suffer serious injuries, or death, is soaring. As a result, retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes where millions of senior citizens reside across the nation are trying to balance the safety of their residents and their desires to live as they choose.
The Dangers of Falls
The danger surrounding elderly falls is very real. In 2012, the number of seniors ages 65 and older who died as a result of a fall reached over 24,000 people. That is almost double the number from ten years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In addition, more than 2.4 million seniors were treated at emergency rooms for fall-related injuries in 2012, an increase of over fifty percent over the last decade. In total, from 2002 to 2012, more than 200,000 elderly people in the United States have died from falls, and they are the leading cause of injury-related death for people ages 65 and over.
Precautions Being Taken
People who study and manage retirement facilities and nursing homes are now bringing in the experts to help make their communities safer for their residents. In an attempt to anticipate hazardous conditions, senior facilities are hiring architects and interior designers to help.
Some places are installing floor lighting that turns on when a resident gets out of bed and illuminates a path to the bathroom. Others are installing energy absorbing floors to make the impact of a fall softer on its residents.
Even simple precautions in nursing home facilities are helping. One facility installed a white stripe at the top and the bottom of all of their staircases to help the residents with blurry vision see where they are going. In addition, staff members at senior communities are also training on how to best approach the idea of using a cane or walker to residents who seem to be growing more unsteady on their feet.
Elderly Resistance to Fall Safety
Another way that elderly communities are trying to prevent the number of injuries related to falls is by offering a “fall education” class. Institutions offer sessions on avoiding falls and improving balance and fitness, but some residents will not go near them until after they have fallen.
In addition, many residents do not or refuse to recognize their own gradual deterioration, which in turn leaves them vulnerable despite efforts to protect them. Seniors often resist the transition to a cane or walker, as it can feel stigmatizing.
When someone does fall, oftentimes residents in nursing homes stay quiet about it. However, staff members at these facilities encourage residents to report their falls because it indicates a risk for a subsequent fall. Yet residents have a fear that they’ll be whisked away and put somewhere else, and so they refuse to admit when they have fallen. As a result, some residents of these facilities have become vigilantes, and instead of reporting the fall to staff will look out for the other residents themselves.