A study conducted by Monash University and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine has revealed an alarming rise in the number of premature and potentially preventable deaths occurring in Australian nursing homes over the past decade.1

The study

The study, led by Professor Joseph Ibrahim, head of the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at Monash University's Department of Forensic Medicine, analysed data for deaths occurring in accredited aged care facilities reported to Australian coroners between 1 July 2000 and 30 June 2013.

The findings The research found that of the 21,672 deaths reported to coroners during the study period:

a. 15.2% (or 3289 deaths) were 'external' cause deaths (resulting from injury or violence).

b. Women accounted for the majority of external cause deaths (60.8% or 2001 cases) with the median age of residents dying of external causes being 88 years

c. 93.3% (or 3067 cases) of external cause deaths resulted from unintentional external events causing death such as:

  1. falls (81.5% or 2679 deaths);
  2. choking (7.9% or 216 deaths); and
  3. other unintentional causes including transport crashes (1.2% or 38 deaths), asphyxia and aspiration (0.7% or 23 deaths) and poisoning (0.5% or 18 deaths).

d. Intentional injuries causing death were accounted for in 5.6% (or 183 deaths) of external cause deaths, most through suicide (4.4% or 146 deaths), resident-to-resident assault (1% or 34 deaths) and homicide (0.1% or 3 deaths).

Implications

The statistics show that there has been a significant increase in external cause deaths over the past decade.

The report is welcomed in that it reveals data that has otherwise not been collated.

However the findings of the study should not be viewed in isolation. The issues are complex. Residential aged care has all but eliminated physical and chemical restraint and the impact of this on falls for example cannot be ignored.

Providers rely on preventative strategies and appropriate interventions to improve the long term care for residents.

The aged care sector is working with the Department of Health to develop strategies, in collaboration with residents and their families, to minimise the increasing prevalence of external cause deaths such as falls, choking and suicide occurring in aged care facilities in Australia.