A broken bone is a significant health concern for anyone who experiences one and, among older people, fractures can have even more serious consequences. Sometimes a broken bone is an unfortunate occurrence for which no one is legally at fault. Other times, however, a fracture may be caused by someone else's negligence or failure to act with due care. In such cases, the injured person may be able to make a claim against the negligent person in a personal injury lawsuit.
Fall and Fracture Statistics
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Americans over age 65 falls each year. For the same age group, falls are the leading cause of death from injury. Each year, the direct medical cost resulting from falls is several billion dollars.
Nearly a third of all people who fall experience severe injuries such as head trauma and fractures. Among older people, most broken bones are caused by falls, reports the CDC, and fractures most often occur in the hip, pelvis, arm and hand.
Osteoporosis and Falls
Osteoporosis causes weakening of the bones and can exacerbate the damage caused by a fall. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that osteoporosis is characterized by deteriorated bone tissue, which leads to bone fragility and a greater risk of wrist, hip and spine fractures. In the U.S., the NIH estimates that more 40 million people have osteoporosis or are risk for it because they have low bone mass.
Fall and Fracture Risk Factors
The Mayo Clinic and the NIH highlight several factors that may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis and the likelihood of suffering a broken bone in a fall, including:
- Age: Bones become thinner and weaker as people age and a decline in vision and balance, combined with slowed reaction times, can result in a high rate of falls and broken bones among older people. According to the Mayo Clinic, nine of 10 hip fractures happen to people over age 65.
- Gender: Women's bones weaken at a faster rate than men's and hormonal changes after menopause can accelerate bone deterioration in women. The Mayo Clinic reports that nearly 80 percent of all hip fractures occur in women.
- Race: Caucasian and Asian women have the highest risk of developing osteoporosis. African-American and Hispanic women also have an increased risk, adding to the likelihood of suffering a broken bone.
- Medication: Some medicines cause gradual bone density loss and contribute to the risk of a fracture.
- Nutritional deficiency: Long-term insufficient intake of calcium and vitamin D can increase the chance of developing osteoporosis and broken bones.
Lifestyle: Physical inactivity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption also can lead to weaker bones and make people more prone to fractures.
Falls and Fractures in Nursing Homes
In addition to the factors listed above, the American Geriatrics Society states that living in a nursing home is another factor that increases the risk of falling and suffering a fracture. An article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reports that nursing home residents tend to fall three times more often than older people living in the community outside of a nursing home. The Journal's statistics also show that, among nursing home residents, serious injuries happen in about 12 percent of falls and fractures occur in about 4 percent of falls.
Some falls and broken bones occurring in nursing homes are accidents that may not have been preventable. However, using preventive strategies and taking appropriate precautions can reduce the risk of falls and fractures, especially in nursing homes.
When a nursing home does not have standard fall-prevention measures in place, or when a nursing home employee fails to follow the standard of care, leading to a fracture, the nursing home and its employee may be held liable for damages in a personal-injury lawsuit. Even if the injured nursing home resident has a condition like osteoporosis that makes him or her more likely to break a bone, if the nursing home provided substandard care, causing or allowing the fall the created the fracture, the injured person maybe be able to obtain compensation for his or her medical and rehabilitative costs as well as pain and suffering in a lawsuit.
If you or a loved one was injured in a fall in a nursing home, contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney with experience in nursing home negligence cases to discuss any legal claims you may have.