Why Nurse Call Systems Aren’t Good Enough: Automated Fall Risk Assessments and Beyond

In years past, nurse call systems were seen as a modern, desirable amenity in senior living properties. Nurse call systems seemed to provide a degree of safety, as residents who had fallen could theoretically ring for help. This attitude has waned as more robust, proactive alternatives to resident-activated call systems have become available.

Senior care providers have a paramount duty to make fall prevention a top priority. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “between half and three-quarters of nursing home residents fall each year” and “about 10% to 20% of nursing home falls cause serious injuries.” What’s more, about 1,800 seniors in nursing homes die annually as the result of falls, and this startling statistic does not include assisted living or other care types that are not overseen nationally.

Falling is arguably the biggest risk senior living residents face, but it’s a risk that can be mitigated.

Leading senior living providers are no longer content to wait until a fall has occurred to do something, as is common with many resident-activated call systems. More and more providers are adopting fall risk assessment technologies that warn staff ahead of time when a senior is exhibiting indicators that he or she may be at a heightened risk of falling.

Weaknesses of Resident Activated Nurse Call Systems

Nurse call systems are certainly better than nothing at all, but have several glaring weaknesses*:

  • They are often only accessible in single locations of a living space or in the perimeters of rooms, where they may not be accessible to an injured or incapacitated resident.
  • They can only alert staff to staff to falls that have already occurred.
  • Fall systems relying on wearable pendants, patches, or other accessories are susceptible to residents forgetting to wear them.
  • Even residents who have remembered their wearable call systems may not be able to operate them if they are badly hurt, unconscious, or disoriented following a fall or other adverse health incident.

The question, then, becomes: What is the alternative?

Automated Fall Risk Assessment and Fall Detection

Ambient monitoring systems are based on sensors in residents apartments, paired with artificial intelligence systems. They can reliably detect impending falls, and have none of the drawbacks of nurse call systems. Ambient monitoring systems have been recognized by industry thought leaders as game changers in the senior living space.

These technologies provide continuous, automated fall risk assessment without the use of traditional video cameras. A study of automated fall risk assessment technologies, published by Washington State University, explains:

“Ambient sensors are neither video-based nor are required to be worn on the body. Ambient sensors include temperature, infrared motion, light, door, object, and pressure sensors. There is a large body of research surrounding the application of ambient sensors in smart homes. Ambient technology has been utilized to estimate gait velocity, specifically using infrared motion sensors.”

An investment in the best fall prevention technology has the potential to pay significant dividends. Senior communities that use technologies that prevent falls increase their residents’ length-of-stay, and accordingly improve their occupancy rate. They also are positioned to become leaders in their markets by developing a reputation for safety and quality care. Finally, ambient monitoring system can also be a differentiating amenity that will help you attract more new residents.

And, bearing in mind the fact that no technology can prevent all falls, ambient monitoring technologies will also alert staff (and approved family members) immediately when a fall does occur, including a privacy protected infrared video clip of the fall. All data is stored so events preceding a fall can be analyzed and the contributing factors recognized, allowing providers to continuously improve their fall prevention strategies.

As senior care providers both upgrade their technology and take a more proactive stance towards caregiving, nurse call systems and related resident-activated alert systems will be phased out in favor of passive, sensor-based monitoring, which is clearly a superior tool for both fall prevention and fall detection.

*Check your local regulations if you’re thinking of replacing your nurse call system as specific requirements vary state to state.

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