Elderly nursing home residents face a high risk of suffering serious and potentially life-threatening traumatic head injuries due falls, according to the findings of new research that indicates the direction that they fall may be crucial in preventing such injuries.
In a study published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers from the Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, British Columbia, indicate that more than a third of all falls that occur in a nursing home result in a head impact.
Those head traumas could cause brain injuries that threaten the resident’s life or ability to function independently.
The study looked at video of 227 falls involving 133 nursing home residents over a 39 month period at two facilities. They looked at the video to determine whether it was likely that a head impact occurred.
Researchers found that 37% of nursing home falls resulted in head traumas, with forward falls associated with the highest likelihood of a head impact. The impacts were less likely to occur when patients fell backwards. In sideways falls, they were more likely to rotate to fall backwards in a protective reaction. Researchers looked to see if catching themselves with their hands helped, but found that the act of falling backwards prevented more head impacts than using their hands to mitigate the fall.
According to the investigators, more than 60% of all head injuries in older adults are the result of falls. For the population at large, only 28% of head injuries are attributed to fall damage. These falls can result in TBIs that can cause brain damage and result in the need for medical treatment for the rest of the victim’s life, and in many cases can be fatal. In nursing home residents this can lead to further complications, lack of mobility and independence, increased medical expenses, an increased likelihood of more falls and death.
The researchers determined that backward rotation during a fall appears to be protective while hand impacts were not. The suggest that attention to upper-limb strength and teaching rotational falling techniques, like those taught in martial arts training, could be a way to reduce TBIs and other head injuries from nursing home falls.