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Broken Feet and Other Fractures in Nursing Homes

A resident of Regency Heights in Clearwater, Florida, suffered a broken foot when a shower door closed on it. A nearby nurse’s aide was given a written warning and orders to retrain for failing to help the patient hold the door open.

Broken feet and toes–as well as any fracture in the hips and legs–put seniors at even higher risks for falls in the future. They can also decrease mobility and quality of life, even after they’ve healed.

Falls and Fractures: Unfavorable Odds

Nearly 90% of fractures in people 65 or older are caused by falls. Recent studies reveal a shocking 1 of every 3 U.S. citizens at this age will fall annually, and the odds of not breaking a bone are not in their favor.

Fractures are common in elderly patients, especially those with osteoporosis or reduced muscle and fat to absorb the shock of their fall.

The Foot Is Not a Common Fracture

The most common fractures in senior citizens, from highest to lowest probability, are:

  • Hip
  • Thigh
  • Pelvis
  • Vertebrae/back
  • Arm
  • Hand
  • Leg or ankle

Feet are not so common, so when they occur to nursing home patients, it’s wise to question the cause. In some cases, it’s a simple accident; a patient tries to stand on his own without waiting for a nurse, or the bones are already weakened by undiagnosed illness.

In other cases, however, it’s a matter of negligence on the part of the caretaker.

Risk Factors for a Broken Foot

Your loved one is at a greater risk of falling and sustaining a fracture, in the foot or elsewhere, if they have:

  • A history of vertigo and fainting
  • Dementia, Parkinson’s, or other illnesses that may compromise mental capacity and decision-making skills
  • A history of falls and fractures
  • Missing toes, prosthetics, etc.
  • Trouble getting up from a seated position
  • Blindness, full or partial, that can make seeing trip hazards difficult
  • An age greater than 75 years

Possible Causes of a Broken Foot

Elderly nursing home patients are at higher risk for fractures than more able-bodied senior citizens, largely due to the very same care that keeps them alive. Some common causes of a broken foot and other fractures in nursing homes are:

  • Improper lifting of a patient in/out of bed
  • Failure to supply patient with help standing or moving into wheelchair
  • Failure to place patient’s feet securely in chair holds, off ground and away from wheels
  • Missed or ignored diagnosis of bone diseases such as osteoporosis or osteosarcoma
  • Improper footwear for the day’s activities
  • Allowing too much clutter in residents’ rooms, or allowing large and heavy objects to be stored up high/precariously

Broken Foot: Should You Be Alarmed?

If your loved one sustains a broken foot, take note of how it happened: were aides or nurses present? If not, ask why.

Request a detailed medical report from the facility, as well as the hospital or emergency care provider your loved one was taken to after the injury.

If the details of the foot injury seem suspicious, seek legal action. Stories that don’t match up between employees–or between the facility and the hospital’s opinion–are cause for concern.

Ask your loved one what happened to cause the broken foot, as well, if they are able to communicate coherently. If there were reliable witnesses present, make sure to interview them in private, at the council of a lawyer.

Ideally, falls and fractures should be non-existent in nursing homes: caretakers should be with high-risk patients the entire time they are standing or doing activities that require movement, and should always be available for patients who want to get up from chairs or beds.

Sources Cited:

American Family Physician, “Falls in the Elderly.” http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2159.html

Connecticut Health I-Team, “Medication Errors, Falls Result in Nursing Home Fines.” http://c-hit.org/2015/03/23/medication-errors-falls-result-in-nursing-home-fines/

MedicineNet, “Falls and Fractures in Seniors.” http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=7774

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