Better design means fewer falls

September 20, 2017

Close up of elderly person with walking zimmer

According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury or death among people 65 and older. According to the American Geriatric Society, most falls for this population occur in hospitals and nursing homes, with a rate as high as 1.5 per bed annually—three times the rate for elderly persons dwelling outside of healthcare facilities. Additionally, falls in healthcare cost approximately $3.6 billion a year.


Last year a study by Texas Tech University’s College of Human Sciences set out to discover if patient room design is a factor in safety and, if so, how to improve it.


The study showed that falls frequently happen when elderly patients assumed certain postures while interacting with their environment through four activities: pushing, pulling, turning and grabbing. These postures were most closely associated with activities performed in the bathroom, including opening the bathroom door, raising and lowering the toilet seat, using the grab bars and toilet flush handle, as well as navigating various obstructions on the path to the bathroom. According to Professor Debajyoti Pati, who ran the study, “one of the things we found was turning as a posture activity was associated highest with fall frequencies”.


Clearing the path to the bathroom is one easy solution for reducing falls. The study found that even just a few objects obstructing the path to the bathroom, like a chair, an over-bed table, or trash can, posed difficulties for the elderly to maneuver around.


Turning, pushing and pulling the IV pole also proved to be a major contributor to falls, especially while opening and closing a bathroom door. “The IV pole design is faulty, and even the clinicians say the industry needs to rethink how it is designed,” Pati added.


Allowing greater visibility for nurses can help reduce falls. At Methodist Hospital/Clarian Health Partners in Indianapolis, a decentralized design layout that increased the staff’s ability to observe patients helped contribute to a 75% reduction in falls over a five-year period.


St. Joseph’s Hospital in West Bend, IN is designing every patient room to be exactly the same, allowing staff entering the room to know where everything is located. This also helps patients who are transferred to different rooms during their stay.


For more information on fall prevention through better design, be sure to read The Impact of Healthcare Environmental Design on Patient Falls, published by The Center for Health Design and The Coalition for Health Environments Research.


For help improving the design of your healthcare facility, contact Vanguard Resources.