5 Ways to Prevent Falls in the Home
Of all of the healthcare concerns you have for a loved one, falls should be near the top of the list. Not all falls can be prevented, but there are steps you can take to make a fall less likely. Unfortunately, as people age, recovery from falls can be long and arduous due to co-occurring medical conditions and osteoporosis. The first step is to understand the gravity of falls, the cost in terms of quality of life and financial resources, and then what you can do about this serious problem.
How Many Older Adults Fall?
You most likely know of an older adult who falls and breaks their hip or sustains another serious injury. In fact, over 300,000 older adults are hospitalized each year with hip fractures and over 800,000 people are hospitalized each year because of a fall.
“Each year, millions of older people—those 65 and older—fall. More than one out of four older people falls each year, but less than half tell their doctor. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.” Many of these falls result in broken bones or head injuries and 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries every year.
What Are the Financial Consequences of Falls?
The financial costs of falls are astronomical due to hospital stays, rehab, doctors, medical equipment, prescription drugs, and community-based services. Here are some of the estimates of costs associated with falls from the CDC:
- $29 billion is paid by Medicare
- $12 billion is paid by private or out-of-pocket payers
- $9 billion is paid by Medicaid
- Long-term financial effects of these injuries, such as disability, dependence on others, lost time from work and household duties, and reduced quality of life
What Are the Medical and Quality of Life Consequences of Falls?
The medical and quality of life consequences of falls is staggering and the strain on families and their loved ones can be overwhelming. Here are some of the possible effects on people who fall and the families and caregivers who care for them.
Rehabilitation is a great insurance-covered skilled service for people who qualify. The challenge is getting enough rehab to be able to go home and function independently. One in three people over the age of 50 who break a hip die. The rest may struggle to regain their previous level of functioning despite extensive rehab.
- Dependence on Family and Caregivers
For many people who break a hip or sustain another type of fracture or head injury, returning home without care is not possible. That means relying on family for care or hiring caregivers to fill in the gaps.
- Reduced Mobility and Independence
You may think of reduced mobility and independence as being temporary and in the best cases, they are. But, for many older adults, a fall leaves them with a permanent reduction in the ability to walk, transfer and take care of their activities of daily living.
- Reliance on Higher Levels of Care
Unfortunately, many times the result of a fall is the inability of an older adult to live independently due to extensive care needs. A higher level of care, such as assisted living could be required.
How to Reduce the Risk of Falls
Now that you have the bad news, let’s look at the good news. We know not every fall can be prevented, but these fall prevention tips have additional benefits to any older adult. A healthier person has more confidence, is happier and more likely to recover from a fall more quickly.
- Strength and Balance Exercises. Lower body weakness and mobility problems are major risk factors for falls. Improve strength and balance with low-impact exercise and increased activity in general. You don’t necessarily need to leave your home to improve strength and balance. With your doctor’s approval, there are scores of online classes for older adults. Also, evaluate footwear for stable slip-proof shoes.
- Make an Appointment with Your Doctor. Schedule a complete workup to rule out blood pressure or other medical problems. Ask for an assessment of medications to see if there could be drug interactions or side effects. Have your loved one's eyes and ears checked. A yearly Medicare exam will include a complete set of labs and a cognitive and depression screening. Be on the lookout for urinary tract infections and dehydration which are quite common among older adults.
- Home Environment. If you aren’t comfortable evaluating the safety of your loved one’s home, get an occupational therapy (OT) evaluation. An OT can make suggestions on grab bars in the bathroom, railings for stairs, toilet risers, and other accessibility additions. Investing in a chair lift can allow an older adult to safely go up and downstairs. Declutter and remove throw rugs which are a known fall risk hazard. If your loved one doesn’t have an emergency response system ERS), get one right away. An ERS can mean the difference between life and death or severe disability after a fall.
- Lighting. Many falls occur at night or in poor lighting. Improve lighting from the bedroom to the bathroom. Brighter lights throughout the house can help with mobility.
- Education. Educate your loved one about how to transfer or use a walker or take their time when standing. People with cognitive impairment often forget to lock their walker before using it and it can be a challenge to teach someone proper use, but repetition can work. Be patient and keep at it.
What to do if a Fall Happens
If your loved one falls and you are there when it happens, always call 911. Resist the urge to determine injuries on your own. Let the professionals make that evaluation. Also, don’t move the person. Just be reassuring and keep them warm and comforted until emergency personnel arrive.
Once your loved one is stable, evaluate if you can what caused the fall. It is not unusual for people to be unable to remember what caused the fall so give them time to recreate the events that happened. You may not be able to get to the cause, but if you can address the problem. Sometimes you may need to do some detective work to find the reason for a fall, but going through our 5 tips is a good starting point.
Preventing Falls in the Home
It is never too late to make positive changes in the health and well-being of your loved one. Older adults are amazingly resilient and can improve their strength and endurance if given proper and safe instruction. Assessing the home environment should be an ongoing effort to make it safer and more accessible. Hire in-home caregivers to assist your loved one and monitor their health. With these efforts, you can prevent falls in the home.