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Improving Balance among Nursing Home Residents

Residents of nursing homes face an array of physical struggles, not least of which deteriorating balance, which can lead to serious and debilitating injuries if left unmanaged. With advancing age, it is imperative that senior citizens continue to care for themselves and their physical wellbeing with help from family, friends, and nursing home staff. Elder law attorneys at Pintas & Mullins highlight a few ways to help keep residents on their feet and out of harm’s way.

Unfortunately, falls are frequent in nursing homes and thousands of senior citizens pass away prematurely every year due to fall-related injuries. Even when falls do not cause fatal injuries, they often result in broken bones, severe cuts, and other debilitating health problems. Balance is a tricky attribute – you never really notice it until it starts to wane. Some early warnings signs of decreasing stability include relying on handrails to use stairs or having to sit down to take shoes on and off.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common causes of falls in nursing homes are:

• Muscle weakness or walking and gait problems • Incorrect use of walking aides or poorly fitting shoes • Wet floors, poor lighting, inadequate wheelchairs or incorrect bed height • Medications that affect the central nervous system

If a fall is caused by incorrect or wrongful medication or environmental hazards, a nursing home negligence lawsuit may be filed against the facility. Too often, seniors suffer serious injuries from falls that could have been easily prevented if nursing home staff properly maintained common areas. Fall prevention is an extremely important part of staff’s responsibilities.

When a resident is first admitted to a nursing home, a care plan should be immediately drafted that addresses the unique needs of each resident. The risk of falls should always be included in this care plan, along with specific preventative measures and individual risk factors. If a care plan like this is not drafted, and your loved one suffers a serious fall, legal action should be immediately taken to prevent future injury.

It may be necessary to make some minor changes in a nursing home if your loved one is particularly at risk for falls. Interventions can include lowering the height of a bed, installing grab bars or handrails, and putting gin raised toilet seats. Residents may also be equipped with hip pads or vitamin D supplements.

It is important to note that using physical or chemical (i.e. pharmaceutical) restraints to reduce falls is considered abuse. Limiting a person’s physical and mental freedom is not only morally wrong, but illegal as well, as it constitutes elder abuse.

Tips for Stability

Experts suggest doing stability exercises in five- to ten-minute intervals every day. If possible, residents can try walking on several different types of surfaces (such as pavement and grass) to make muscles work more. Residents with good mobility can try standing on top of a few pillows and try balancing on one leg while swinging the other back and forth (if this is too challenging, try sitting on the pillows with legs outstretched and shift body weight side to side). Once you master this, try closing your eyes while repeating the exercises.

To strengthen the hips, physical therapists recommend holding onto a counter or similar surface while standing on one leg and lifting the other leg up to the front, side, back, and to the front again with your knee bent. This works all four hip muscles. Even exercises such as getting up from a chair a few times in a row can help, and be much less strenuous for the less agile.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal – found here – outlines several other exercises residents can do. Good balance is indicative of an active nervous system, which also correlates to good coordination and timing. Any exercise that makes you learn new moves and forces you to adjust to the environment (such as tennis or ballroom dancing) is best for maintaining balance.

For those with limited space or resources, merely walking in a circle or oval in a room can be beneficial, as it is more challenging to walk on a curve than a straight line. Our team of nursing home negligence lawyers have decades of experience working with families of loved ones in nursing homes, and understand how sensitive and complex these cases can be. If you have any questions regarding injuries sustained at a skilled nursing facility and would like legal guidance, contact our firm today. Our case reviews are free of charge and available to potential clients nationwide.