Helping Prevent Wheelchair-Related Falls in Long-Term Care Settings

April 30, 2019
man in wheelchair

In 2003, over 100,000 reported wheelchair-related injuries landed patients in emergency departments across the U.S., more than doubling the number reported just over a decade earlier.1

Tips and falls are some of the most common wheelchair-related accidents, accounting for up to 80% of all wheelchair injuries with the majority of injured patients aged 65 or older.1 In long-term care settings where falls, in general, are more prevalent due to a vulnerable and aging resident population, reports of fall-related injuries increased 20% in 20082—doubling that of community-dwelling elderly—and more than half of all residents sustained at least one fall during their stay.3

The High Cost of Wheelchair Falls

Today, there are 1.4 million long-term care residents and that number is projected to increase to 3 million in 2030, according to the Annals of Long-Term Care. With 80% of these residents spending at least part of their day in a wheelchair,4,5 injuries due to tips and falls remain a challenging part of long-term care.

Residents who are inexperienced wheelchair users are often unaware of the fall risks and attempt to transfer themselves from bed to chair, move in and out of the bathroom, or even stand to retrieve out-of-reach items and fall as a result of the wheelchair tipping, rolling away, or not being properly secured with brakes.6 Falls can also be exacerbated by those who have impulsivity tendencies and cannot wait for help, or cognitive issues and forget to lock their brakes when standing.

Although most falls result in minor scrapes, cuts, or bruises, more severe injuries such as head trauma, muscle or tendon pulls or tears, or fractures are not uncommon and can be serious— especially for elderly residents whose injuries can result in hip fractures that require internal fixation surgery, which has a high mortality rate. And medical costs associated with wheelchair-related falls can be as high as $75,000 per incident, with the average costs hovering around $50,000.6

Useful Solutions from AliMed

While not every injury is preventable, making a few simple and cost-effective wheelchair modifications such as installing auto-lock braking systems or anti-tippers can go a long way in reducing falls. In a 2006 study, LTC facilities reported an almost 80% reduction in falls when wheelchairs were equipped with automatic brake locking systems for high-fall-risk users compared to those who had traditional manual locking brakes.7 Devices like these can have a big impact on fall rates while ensuring safer wheelchair use for your residents.

  • Anti-RollBack Systems feature a weight-sensitive braking mechanism that automatically locks rear wheelchair wheels when a resident stands, helping to reduce harmful falls for high-fall-risk patients or those with diminished mental capacity.
  • Front and Rear Anti-Tippers prevent wheelchairs from tipping as a resident leans or reaches forward or reclines back.
  • Brake Lever Extenders extend the length of the brake handle, making it easier to reach and lock brakes for residents who have the use of only one hand or have limited mobility.

See our full line of Wheelchair Safety Devices.

References:

1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2563507/

2. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2651/

3.www.ahrq.gov/professionals/systems/long-term-care/resources/injuries/fallspx/fallspxman1.html

4.www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_03/sr03_038.pdf

5.www.managedhealthcareconnect.com/content/prevention-overuse-wheelchairs-nursing-homes

6.www.researchgate.net/publication/232208758_Wheelchair-related_Falls_Current_Evidence_and_Directions_for_Improved_Quality_Care

7. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17236475