It is always a good time for a reminder to all of us who are caregivers of older adults about the potential for falls in our senior adults.
We need to do what we can to help them avoid potentially life altering falls.
Did you know one out of three people over 65 will fall this year? Two million will be treated in emergency rooms for fall injuries each year.
Why is that such a cause for concern? Falls in older adults can be life changing events, including lack of mobility, disability and failure to age in place in the home of their dreams. It can also lead to death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Injury Center answered the call to help reduce the number of falls by creating a tool kit that will help health care providers intervene with their aging patients.
This particular tool kit will give doctors and other care providers some fall prevention resources to use with those patients most at risk for falls or who have already been experiencing falls.
STEADI – Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries
The STEADI tool kit is free from the CDC and contains many useful, downloadable tools that can help identify those older adults at risk and provides conversation starters for the practitioner so that they can more effectively broach the subject with elders and caregivers.
It also includes educational handouts for the patient and caregiver to prevent falls and validated gait and balance assessment tests (with instructional video) to track mobility, balance and endurance in the elder.
The tools don’t end there. There are referral forms that can be used to connect caregivers and seniors with specialists in mobility and gait disorders, chair exercises instruction guide, prevention tips, home safety checklist and recommended lists of community programs poised to help seniors prevent falls.
Health Care Providers Screen for Falls
Using the CDC tool kit will make the task of spotting potential fall risk in older patients much easier for practitioners. Here are some of the things your senior’s doctor will probably be doing during the routine office visit to assess fall risk. If they don’t, you can ask for them to if you are concerned about falls with injuries for your senior loved one.
- Obtain a fall history asking specific questions about prior falls in past year, fear of falls or feelings of unsteadiness. Do you need to hold the furniture to steady yourself? Do you need to hurry to the bathroom?
- Administer gait, strength and balance tests including timed Up & Go test, 30 second chair standing test and 4 stage balance test. This will let the doctor observe for himself gait, postural stability, sway and stride length. Refer to physical therapy if needed or if assistive device needed.
- Assess muscle tone, feet and footwear. Refer to podiatrist if needed.
- Screen for depression and cognitive impairment.
- Check both supine and standing blood pressure.
- Reduce doses of psychoactive medications and stop if no longer needed.
- Recommend Vitamin D supplement.
- Give brief eye test, refer to eye doctor if needed.
- Discuss home environment and give safety checklist to reduce fall hazards.
- Provide community recommendations for senior services and fall prevention programs.
- Educate your senior and you about what causes falls and the steps needed to prevent them.
Fall Prevention Tips
There are many things that you and your aging loved one can do to help prevent falls. You have probably already done many things to reduce hazards in your loved ones home but here are a few you may not have tried yet.
Let’s start by looking at some activities your senior can do to reduce falls.
- Begin an exercise program that improves balance and leg strength.
- Chair exercises
- Tai chi
- Weight bearing exercises
- Have your senior’s medication list reviewed by the doctor or pharmacist to be sure there are no medications that are contributing to falls or dizziness.
- Get your senior’s vision checked and use corrective lenses if needed. There may be other eye treatments that would improve your senior’s vision which will reduce their chance of falling.
- Attend a fall prevention program in the community.
- Take a balance class.
- If the doctor agrees, get physical therapy for strength and balance training.
- Use an assistive device as directed. Use your cane or walker when you are supposed to not just when you are away from home.
- Eat a healthy diet with enough water to stay adequately hydrated.
- Always wear proper fitting shoes in and out of the house. Visit a podiatrist if nails need cutting, foot pain is present or other foot problems require assistance.
- Take Vitamin D supplements as prescribed by your doctor.
Check for Fall Hazards in the Home
Things to do in the home if they aren’t already in place:
- Install grab bars in the bathroom at the shower, tub and sink.
- Install enough lighting in key areas to prevent dark areas and be sure the ones already installed are functioning properly. Add switches if needed for best access.
- Keep floors dry and non-slippery. Remove trip hazards like throw rugs, clutter and electric cords.
- Install hand rails at any steps especially going in and out of the house, garage or basement. Be sure stairways have handrails on both sides.
- Keep things used daily in easy reach.
- Be sure there is a cordless or cellular phone accessible –or use a monitoring device that will alert help if you fall.
- Never use a ladder alone; ask someone for help.
- Clear furniture out of walking paths.
- Make an unobstructed path that is easy to maneuver from the bed to the bathroom.
- Keep emergency numbers and medical documents including medication list and advance directives on the refrigerator in case of emergencies.
Fall hazards are present in every home. Often they are easy to overlook until an accident occurs.
Most of the time, fixing hazards doesn’t take much time, effort or money.
Don’t let fear of falling or fall hazards cause your senior loved one to stop being active or isolate themselves.
Falls are preventable with a little bit of observation and planning. The cost of renovations or DIY projects are minimal compared to the healthcare cost of injuries.
Is there something that you have done to keep your senior loved one safe at home?