If your older adult has recently taken a fall, you’re probably worried about what to do next. TheKey (formerly, Home Care Assistance) and DailyCaring.com shares 5 steps to take to reduce the chances that they’ll fall again.
Every year, about 3 million older adults suffer a fall that’s severe enough to land them in the emergency room.
One out of five falls causes a serious injury, like a hip fracture or head injury.
Most people don’t think about fall prevention and recovery – until someone they love falls. When most of us are to frazzled and anxious to actually think straight. While there are preventative measures one can take to reduce the risk of falls, there are also some things you need to know to do if your loved one falls.
What to do if a loved one falls
If an aging parent or another older adult in your life has recently taken a tumble, you are probably anxious about what you should do next. How do you make sure they are OK?
What can you do to keep them living at home safely and prevent them from falling again?
While there aren’t any one-size-fits-all answers, there are several steps you can take to reduce the chances of another fall
Consider these 5 steps for your post-fall action plan.
1. Find the root cause of the fall
Treating the injury is obviously your first priority.
But, the next crucial step is to arrange a checkup with your older adult’s primary care doctor or a physician who specializes in caring for older adults.
“The single most important thing to do when an older person falls is [to] determine the root cause,” says Michael Wasserman, MD, a geriatrician, past president of the California Association of Long-Term Care Medicine.
In other words, you need to try to figure out why the person fell in order to prevent future falls.
i) A number of chronic medical conditions are associated with falls, including arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and neuropathy (nerve damage that typically causes numbness in the legs or feet).
ii) Other factors, such as vision loss, inner-ear problems that cause vertigo, and orthostatic hypotension (a condition in which a person’s blood pressure drops quickly when they stand) are also common, says Dr. Wasserman.
iii) Anemia, thyroid problems, dehydration, and incontinence – which can lead to frequent, and urgent trips to the bathroom – can aldo be problematic.
iv) And some older adults suffer from “frailty syndrome,” which refers to the loss of muscle, stamina, and overall fitness that can increase the risk of falling.
Oftentimes, several overlapping issues contribute to an older adult’s tendency to fall, and it’s important to identify as many as possible,
Your older adult’s doctor should give them a thorough physical, including a gait and balance assessment.
Ensure your doctor also evaluate your older adult’s cognitive skills.
2. Review medications for possible side effects
Polypharmacy, is when a person takes multiple medications, as is often the case with older adults.
Needless to say, Polypharmacy increases the risk of adverse drug reactions, often impairing mobility, which, in turn, can lead to falls.
So, whether or not a medication’s side effect, directly or indirectly caused your older adult’s fall – this is a good time to conduct what’s called “a comprehensive medication review” with the help of their primary care doctor.
This in-depth review, is intended to highlight medication side effects, identify potential drug interactions, and determine whether all the medications your older adult is taking are in fact necessary and/or if dosages need to be adjusted.
3. What you can do
The exact game plan for preventing falls will vary from person to person. However, here are some proactive steps to take now.
First, have an open and honest discussion about the situation. Express your concerns. Listen to theirs.
Then together work through the below points:
- Ask your older adult’s doctor about making changes to medications to reduce side effects such as dizziness, sleepiness, and sudden changes in blood pressure.
- Encourage your older adult to use a cane, walker, or other supportive aid. We have some great advise articles, on how to navigate that conversation, and choose the right aid for your person.)
- Make sure your older adult’s eyeglasses and hearing aid prescriptions are up to date.
- Encourage them to exercise. Especially exercises such as tai chi or yoga, which emphasise balance. Not only does exercise of this kind have have the physical benefiits of increased muscles strength, and improved co-ordination and balance, but it also increases confidence. Plus but if done in a group, is a great form of social stimulation,
- Work through our “fall prevention program” together. Knowing what to do if they were to fall – and practicing ahead of time, is very empowering.
- Consider hiring a home care aide, or companion, if necessary.
- Modify your older adult’s home with handrails or grab bars to make it easier to get around safely.
4. Conduct a home safety evaluation
An estimated six out of 10 falls happen in the home, which is why it’s wise to do a thorough safety evaluation of the residence.
If you decide to do this type of assessment, use a formal checklist – like this one – to guide you.
The main things to consider are whether there are enough handrails, adequate lighting, and whether there are throw rugs or loose cords that are easy to trip on, It’s also important to minimize clutter (especially on the floor and around stairs), use non-skid mats in the bathroom, and add grab bars where necessary, such as near toilets and showers.
And you might want to rearrange some furniture to make moving around the home easier.
5. Help them move past the fear of falling
Falls are scary, and it’s natural to want to avoid having another. The problem is that some older adults become so fearful of falling, that they end up moving less because of it.
“People can get stuck in a fear/avoidance cycle and start to limit their activity,” says Dr. Popolizio. “Over time, that degrades their strength, power, endurance, and functional independence, which increases their risk of subsequent falls.”
To break the fear-of-falling cycle, focus on building your older adult’s confidence and strength.
First, have an open and honest discussion with them about falling, and their fear of falling.
Then, offer your support to help alleviate those concerns. Once they’ve accepted your offer, work through the list of risk factors together [ Read article: Risk factors that contribute to a fall ]
Then, plan for the worst-case scenario. There are some simple safety techniques you can learn for how to get up from a fall. Knowing what to do if you were to fall – and practicing ahead of time, is very empowering. Giving the confidence needed to help themselves out of the situation, and minimise injuries.
* How to get up from a fall: a step-by-step guide for seniors
* 7 ways to reduce your risk of falling