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Care providers urged to do more to prevent fall injuries

There are certain fields that require practitioners to pursue ongoing education to maintain their licenses. The law is one of them. So is medicine. Indeed, in the medical profession, the standards of care are constantly changing as knowledge about the causes of conditions and the possible cures advances. Doctors and nurses need to stay up with the developments.

Such changes don't tend to happen overnight. They usually come only after research, followed by the formation of a consensus. But once a standard is set, the expectation is that it will serve as the minimum level of care delivered. If the standard is not met and irreversible harm or death results, a claim of medical malpractice might be warranted. An attorney should always be consulted.

Fall prevention is one of the areas in which consensus is pending. There is no doubt that the issue is significant. Statistics recently reported by The Washington Post indicate that more than 2 million senior citizens in the United States wind up in the emergency room every year after falls.

That raises the question about what can be done to prevent them. Here the medical profession seems more undecided. Most of the time, falls are attributed to patients being on medications that affect their balance, problems with vision, or tripping hazards such as loose rugs.

But researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital say it's time for doctors to begin looking at infection as a possible cause, too.

They studied 161 fall injury cases. All of the patients had infections at the time of their falls but doctors failed to make the diagnosis in 41 percent of the cases because patients didn't have obvious symptoms. The researchers say many of them did show more subtle indications of infection such as lethargy or general weakness.

They suggest many falls could be prevented if doctors and the public become more aware of those subtle signs.

Meanwhile, a recent article in Hearing Journal says audiologists could do more to help prevent falls, especially among the elderly. Experts acknowledge that audiologists and even hearing aid testers should be more proactive in spotting the factors that might contribute to falls before they occur.

At this point it can't be said that standards of care exist, but with more members of the medical profession talking about the issue, it reflects an understanding that this is an issue worthy of greater attention.

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