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Study: Bed alarms not enough to prevent hospital falls

Falls are the leading cause of injury and death for adults over the age of 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls are also one of the biggest threats to people who are hospitalized, and they are especially common when patients try to get out of their hospital beds on their own.

That’s why many hospitals have installed bed alarms that are supposed to alert hospital staff when patients try to get out of bed without assistance. For the most part, hospitals had good intentions when installing these devices, but a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that they might not be effective.

After conducting an 18-month review of close to 28,000 patients using 349 beds at a Tennessee hospital, researchers determined that the bed alarms were unsuccessful at reducing falls. The main reason for this, the researchers concluded, was “alarm fatigue”. In other words, false alarms were so common that hospital staff stopped responding, even when a patient was at risk.

The study’s principal investigator, who is also a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, said that alarms alone are not enough to thwart falls. Instead, staff members need to be trained to closely monitor patients who are at risk of falls. Additionally, staff members should remind the patients and their family members of the dangers, he said.

Experts say that hospital falls are most common between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. when patients get up to use the restroom. Because many of the patients are elderly and forgetful, they may not remember the difficulty they have getting up and out of bed on their own. That’s why it is so important to have patients under close supervision instead of merely relying on technology.

Source:  USA TODAY, “Study finds hospital bed alarms don’t deliver results,” Frank Gluck, Dec. 5, 2012