Falls are dangerous and scary for our senior loved ones.
As family caregivers we want to do anything we can to prevent falls because we know that the consequences can be severe.
One in three seniors will fall this year. Many of those won’t be serious but too many will be life-changing.
Falls are the leading cause of injury and even death for our elders. Did you know that in 2012 there were 2.4 million nonfatal falls in seniors over 65 treated in the emergency departments and of those that came to the ER, 722,000 ended up hospitalized?
Senior Injuries from Falls
Injuries from falls include some as minor as lacerations and bruises all the way to more severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head trauma. Fractures of all kinds happen following a fall including hips, pelvis, spine, ankles, arms and hands.
A not uncommon result in falls with injury is loss of independence, which often requires a move to a long term care facility. Those over 75 are 4-5 times more likely to require care in a facility following a fall.
In 2011, almost 23,000 seniors died from a fall.
A side effect of falls for many senior loved ones is a fear of falling that will limit their functional mobility. They begin fearing falling so stop moving. A decline in mobility can also lead to loss of the ability to age in place.
What can family caregivers do to help prevent falls? There are many strategies to help prevent falls, including making home modifications and improving seniors’ strength, but there are also new products being tested and hopefully coming to market that will help our seniors stay safe at home.
Balance Training with Shoe Insoles
Recently we learned about some new findings published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation about the ability of vibrating insoles to reduce falls for seniors. According to researchers “stimulation applied to the soles of the feet improved balance by reducing postural sway and gait variability.”
They used foam insoles with embedded actuators, which generated a mechanical stimulation. These vibratory stimulations applied to the soles of the feet were able to work despite the loss of sensation that can be common in elderly people. Often this loss of sensation in the feet can trigger a fall due to impaired balance and gait disturbance.
The device is placed in the shoe at the arch with a rechargeable battery enclosed in the tongue of the shoe.
After using the device, senior participants were given several tests to measure their functional mobility including a Get Up and Go test.
The results of the study were promising, with improvements shown, but more testing and design modifications are being done by the researchers.
Using Accelerometer and Gyroscope Technology To Prevent Falls
Technology that allows your smartphone or tablet to change the screen orientation from portrait to landscape when you turn it and other actions, such as airbag deployment, can be used to help prevent falls in seniors.
A team of engineers at Texas Tech has created a small sensor device that can be clipped onto a waistband and work in unison with pressure sensitive insoles to track gait, tilt and swerve. The information obtained is then sent wirelessly for analysis.
A routine pattern is first established and then an alert is sent when a break in the normal pattern occurs. The idea is that this information can be used to alter behaviors to prevent falls by detecting a pattern that could lead to a fall even days in advance.
In the words of these researchers, “we are humbled as we move slowly and methodically toward creating something useful.”
Students Invent Smart Brace
Graduate engineering students collaborating with mechanical engineering and orthopedic surgery professor Thomas Andriachhi participated in the 2005 Stanford’s Biodesign Innovation Program. They developed a “smart” ankle brace for elders in order to correct imbalances and prevent falls.
The brace they designed has a smart chip that continuously monitors the roll of the ankle. If a roll is detected, the device provides a correctional vibration alerting the senior to change position or shift balance to avoid a fall.
This sounds like it could be a valuable device, but the group has been looking for funding and continued research to make it viable.
New ideas are often slow to fruition, but we applaud great young minds trying to solve problems that will help seniors stay safe and hope to see news of this device in the future.
Prevention Devices Available Today
Those research innovations are great ideas and could prove to reduce falls and injuries in our seniors in the future, but when they will be fully tested and manufactured is unknown.
Here are some devices that are currently available that could help your senior loved one.
- Fall pads, magnetic monitors and sensor pads; these are devices that can detect movement such as getting up from bed or chair; they also detect when a person steps onto a pad on the floor such as near a door or at the bedside; they all sound alarms that will notify family caregivers of movement that could lead to a fall so that intervention can occur
- Motion sensors can be placed in key areas of the home to alert the caregiver to movement and patterns that may be unusual
- Medical devices such as canes, walkers and shower chairs
- Home aids such as grab bars, nonslip mats in shower, and nonskid stair treads
- Correctly fitting footwear with proper soles to prevent slipping
Taking appropriate precautions to prevent falls, using the latest technology and keeping abreast of exciting innovations that could help us prevent falls in our senior loved ones will certainly improve the likelihood that they can age in place in comfort and safety.