ABC News had an interesting article about the decline in the use of alarms as a means of fall prevention. The change is part of a nationwide movement to phase out personal alarms and other long-used fall prevention measures in favor of more proactive, preventative care. Without alarms, facilities need staff to better learn residents’ routines and accommodate their needs before they try to stand up and do it themselves.
“We’re putting alarms on residents so we can forget about them,” said Jenna Heim, director of nursing at Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge.
“The use of bed and chair alarms proliferated in the 1990s, when physical restraints were banned, and are intended to go off when a resident’s weight shifts, indicating they may be trying to stand without assistance. But a growing body of evidence indicates alarms and other measures, such as fall mats and lowered beds, do little to prevent falls and can instead contribute to falls by startling residents, creating an uneven floor surface and instilling complacency in staff.” As we all know, an alarm is only as good as the caregiver responding to it.
About 1,800 older adults living in nursing homes die each year from fall-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows a reduction in falls at multiple long-term care facilities that discontinued the use of the alarms and tailored fall prevention for individuals — things like altering bathroom schedules, room rearrangements or more mental stimulation.
Going alarm-free isn’t yet possible for every nursing home, but it’s generally becoming a best practice as nursing facilities work to create the most home-like setting for people who live there, according to John Sauer, executive director of LeadingAge Wisconsin, a network of nonprofit long-term care organizations.
“An alarm system doesn’t prohibit falls,” Sauer said.