Falling in Acute Mental Health Settings for Older People: Who falls, where, when and why?

Christina Victor, Angela Dickinson, Venkataran Narayanan, Charles Melvyn Simpson, Caroline Griffiths, Deborah Humphrey

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Falls, slips and trips are a major patient safety concern in hospital settings accounting for 26 per cent of all reported patient safety incidents in England. Mental health conditions and their treatments add further to fall risk but we have little information regarding who falls, where and when within mental health settings.
Methods: This paper presents an overview of the pattern of falls by older patients within an in-patient mental health setting in the South of England using routine records completed by staff when a fall occurs. 920 fall reports over three years were analysed, and 7 focus groups were undertaken with ward staff to explore how staff understood falls and their experiences of using the falls reporting system.
Results: In terms of diagnosis 40% of fallers had a primary functional diagnosis, 46% an organic mental health diagnosis (14% non-specific diagnosis), average age was 81.7 years (range 59 to 99 years; SD 8.3) and 57% were female. Approximately one quarter, 27%, of falls were observed by staff. Falls were not evenly distributed across either day of week or time of day, with peak times for falls on Tuesday and Saturday and morning (7-8 and 9-10am) and subsidiary peaks between noon and 1pm and early evening (5-6pm). Almost half of falls occurred in private spaces in the ward such as bedrooms, and 42% in public spaces such as sitting rooms. However 60% of falls in public spaces were unseen. Reporting in these settings was problematic for staff and patients were sometimes described as placing themselves on the floor as a consequence of their mental health condition. The average time to first fall was 5 weeks.
Conclusions: Routine mapping of falls could be undertaken at ward and organization level and contribute to better understanding of the local factors contributing to falls. Exploring incident report data in focus groups with staff helped us and them to interpret the data and to understand some of the decision making staff engage in everyday when reporting falls.
Original languageEnglish
Article number173
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Gerontology & Geriatric Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2014


  • older people
  • falls
  • mental health
  • acute hospitals


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