Long-term care residents are at high risk of fall-related head injuries, study finds

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Long-term care residents frequently hit their heads when they fall, suggesting that care providers should develop interventions to reduce the risk of fall-related brain injuries, according to newly published research.

Researchers affiliated with Canada's Simon Fraser University analyzed video footage from two long-term care facilities. In a 39-month period, they captured 227 falls involving 133 residents, according to the findings published yesterday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Head impact occurred in 37% of the videotaped falls, the researchers found. People hit their head on the floor in 63% of these incidents, while 16% hit their head on furniture and 13% hit a wall. Those who fell forward were most likely to hit their head. Residents' attempts to break falls with their hands “had no significant effect” on the likelihood that they would have a head impact, the researchers found.

Exercises that strengthen upper limbs might help seniors break their falls more effectively with their hands, the researchers wrote. They also suggested that training in martial arts falling techniques could benefit older adults.

There were no reported concussions resulting from any of the videotaped falls, which might reflect the difficulty of separating fall-related cognitive effects from those of “baseline dementia,” the study authors noted. Increased tomographic scanning after falls could be warranted, they said.

The findings also highlight the need for further research on low-stiffness flooring. Previous studies have shown this type of flooring significantly reduces impact forces to the head and hips, the researchers noted. One such study was published in April, in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.