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Safeguarding Against Falls

Friday May 2, 2014

Unfortunately, falls are common and frightening for the one who falls as well as for caregivers. The elderly are at a greater risk for falls than other age groups due to frailty, side effects of some prescription medications, such as sedatives, and mobility issues. The CDC reports that 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 fall each year (as cited in CDC, 2013).

Common causes of falls include ill-fitting shoes, wet floors, rugs, thresholds, beds or chairs that are too high, poor lighting, poor vision, and shuffling or unsteady gait. Previous falls are also a risk factor for future falls. Falls can lead to weakness, injury, and anxiety over the possibility of falling, which can then lead to a pattern of multiple falls.

Although some falls can be prevented, no one can totally prevent them. It is impossible to watch your loved one 24/7. Don’t feel guilty. Accidents happen. Prevent what you can. The following are tips on safeguarding against falls and steps to take when falls occur. We offer these suggestions in the hope that some falls can be prevented and that caregivers can be prepared for any falls that do occur.

Safeguarding Against Falls

  • When your loved one is moving from place to place, be patient. You can be more alert to potential fall risks when moving at a reasonable pace.
  • Ensure that your loved one’s shoes fit properly with all-around support and good traction. Shoes with backs are best. Avoid walking in house shoes and socks.
  • Have your loved one’s vision checked annually. Dementia affects depth perception, so if your loved one has dementia, know that he or she might have difficulty distinguishing between the wooden floor, wooden stairs, and brown rug. Contrasting colors may help your loved one see different objects more clearly.
  • Free walkways of clutter. Cords, magazine racks, shoes or other items left on the floor are potential tripping hazards. Clean up spills quickly.
  • Make sure walkways have proper lighting. Put night lights in your hallway and bathroom in case your loved one has to get up during the night.
  • Consider installing raised toilet seats and/or hand rails in bathrooms. Also, fit slippery tub and shower surfaces with no-slip bath mats.
  • Get rid of unnecessary throw rugs or ensure that they are properly secured to the ground with tape or no-slip backing.
  • Make sure walking paths are lined with sturdy furniture that can be used to anchor and balance those who may become unsteady on their feet. No rolling chairs.
  • If your loved one is unsteady on their feet, consider the use of a cane or walker. If possible, borrow one before purchasing or ordering to ensure that the cane or walker actually helps your loved one to move more steadily. If your loved one is at a high risk for falls, consider use of a wheelchair.

Steps to Take if a Fall Occurs

  • Don’t rush to get your loved one up. It may be wise, if you are able to sit on the ground and get up fairly easily, to train yourself to stop and sit down by your loved one after they fall. You may be better able to calmly assess the situation and to reassure your loved one if you are on the floor with them.
  • If the individual who has fallen does not seem to be hurting, you can try to get them up. Facial expressions are often a good indicator of pain level if your loved one is unable to communicate.
  • If the person who has fallen resists sitting up or seems to be in pain, you may want to consider seeking medical help. Severity and place of possible injury should be considered. For example, complications caused by head injury may take several days to surface.
  • Clean any skin tears and apply antibacterial ointment.
  • If you have to call emergency services, leave your loved one on the ground. Moving them may further aggravate any injuries. Have a list of their medications handy in case requested.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Home and Recreational Safety: Falls. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html