Causes of preventable deaths in nursing homes

Causes of preventable deaths in nursing homes

If someone you love is in a nursing home, you want to believe that they are receiving the best possible care. The decision to move into a nursing home is not easy and it is probably because their health has deteriorated, and they are no longer able to live at home independently. However, abuse in nursing homes is rife and in the worst-case scenario, there are preventable deaths. Common nursing home injury causes include issues as simple as bed rails, overuse of medication and understaffing. 

Between 20% to 24% of deaths in the US happen in nursing homes. Whilst the most common causes of death are still cardiovascular or Alzheimer’s, there remains a high number of preventable deaths. 

Causes of preventable deaths in nursing homes

Bed rails

Bed rails are designed to give the elderly residence more mobility and therefore greater self-sufficiency. However, there have been multiple cases where an elderly person has become stuck between the rail and the mattress or they have tried desperately to climb over rails and have become injured or even been killed in the process. 

Bed rails were once also a way to keep residents confined to their beds. They were once common practice but the risks outweigh the benefits and so they are slowly being phased out. 


The overuse of medication in the United States has led to people being neglected and suffering an early death. Anti-psychotic medication has been used to control patients and confine them to their beds. This has been called a ‘chemical restraint’. The overuse of particular drugs has left people unable to communicate or express themselves.  Often it has been done without their consent and without the consent of their families, who are often confused by their loved one’s rapid decline. 

This is a form of abuse and should never be allowed to happen – it is illegal under both federal and international law. Despite this, this practice continues. This is partly due to the lack of enforcement and understaffing. 


Many nursing homes in the US are struggling with staffing levels. This is majorly due to underfunding, but it can also be due to a lack of qualified staff. When staff turn-around is fast, or the staff don’t have enough time to spend with patients, they can miss changes in their condition. Without this attention to detail, they may miss things that could save their lives. When a nurse is running in and out of a resident’s room, they might not have the chance to assess how they are. 

Understaffing can also lead residents to do things on their own that they shouldn’t, such as taking themselves to the bathroom or bed.  This can cause falls which can lead to premature death. 

Another cause of death in nursing homes is choking which could also be prevented if homes had adequate staff. 


More work needs to be done to monitor nursing homes and hold them responsible when something goes wrong. We need stricter government control over nursing homes to ensure they are meeting the highest standard. 

Furthermore, more staffing needs to be provided so that good and caring staff want to continue working and have time to spend with residents. 

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