Stubbed toes, pinched fingers, sprained ankles – accidents happen every day, but some can be more stressful than others. The first time your parent suffers a fall can be frightening—for them and for you. Unfortunately, older adults who have fallen before are likely to fall again. Did you know that unintentional falls among older adults are a serious public health concern? Here are just a few alarming statistics:
- Nearly half of the people above the age of 85 and a third of those over the age of 65 have experienced a fall, and nearly half of those who fall will experience another fall within a year
- Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of fatalities from injury
- Fall-related costs reached $30 billion in 2005, and are estimated to more than double by 2020
If you’re wondering, “What do I do when an elderly person falls down? What should I do if they keep falling?” you’re not alone. There are steps you can and should take immediately after a fall, in the short term and in the long term to mitigate injury and help prevent falls from happening in the future.
Immediately after your parent falls
If you are present or responding immediately when your senior parent falls, there are three very important things healthcare professionals recommend you do – and not do.
- Ask them to stay still – This is crucial. Do not attempt to help your parent up after a fall until you have ascertained whether or not they have sustained a head, neck or back injury. If your parent is alert, ask them to point out any pain they are experiencing. If your parent hit their head or is unconscious, call emergency services without hesitation.
- Help them get up slowly – If there appear to be only minor injuries, have your parent slowly sit up and then try to stand. If they notice additional pain after standing up, it’s time to go to the hospital or immediate care center. If you suspect there may be a broken bone or more serious injury, call an ambulance.
- Discover the cause of the fall – Even if you witnessed the fall, there may be compounding factors you don’t know about. Did your parent have anything to eat yet that day? Did they miss a medication? Also ask your parent if they tripped over something, felt dizzy, felt weak or had any other physical sensation that preceded the fall. Knowing whether or not the fall was caused by external factors, like obstacles in the home, or internal factors, like a new medical condition, allows you to take the appropriate next steps. If you have any questions or concerns afterward, contact emergency services.
In the short term after a fall
Once your parent is stabilized and well enough, they should have a visit with their primary care doctor to check for and address any medical concerns that may affect the likelihood of another fall. Accompany your parent on this visit as their advocate and be sure to ask the doctor about the following issues:
- Common underlying causes – Some common health problems that can make an older person likely to fall include:
- Weakness caused by an infection
- Blood pressure – Ask that your parent’s blood pressure be read while sitting, then standing. This is especially important to ask about if your parent said they felt light-headed or weak prior to their fall.
- Blood tests – Blood tests, or checking labs, can be helpful for identifying new underlying causes that could be contributing to falls. Ask for a copy of the lab results and have the doctor explain any abnormalities to you.
- Medication review – Many older adults are prescribed medications that heighten their fall risk. Bring a comprehensive list of the medications and dosages your parent takes with you to their doctor’s appointment. Some of these medications may need dosages adjusted or could be eliminated altogether.
- Balance and gait – There are easy methods of checking gait and balance in the doctor’s office, such as simply closely watching the way a person walks. If something seems amiss, start with addressing any discomfort. Your parent may be modifying their movement due to joint, foot or back pain. You may also want to consider seeing a physical therapist for a more thorough assessment. If necessary, a physical therapist can teach your parent strengthening exercises or recommend an assistive device or mobility aid, like a cane or walker – your parent’s primary doctor should be able to refer you to any specialists.
- Vision and inner ear issues – When was the last time your parent had their eyes checked? Poor vision can contribute to falls caused by tripping over objects or miscalculating distances while going down stairs or reaching for a handrail. Make certain your parent’s doctor also checks for inner ear issues. The inner ear houses the vestibular system, which regulates balance.
- Heart and neurological conditions – If falls and near falls become more frequent, and other causes have been ruled out, it may be advisable to check for heart and neurological problems. Chronic heart conditions like atrial fibrillation can cause the heart to race, which contributes to weakness and dizziness. Older people also can develop Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions that compound the issue.
In the long term after a fall
Obstacles and hazards around the home, including rugs, clutter, slick floors and poor lighting, are often the reasons older adults fall. Moving to a senior living community – including both independent and assisted living – is one of the best steps you can take to help prevent your parent from falling again.
- Safety first – Most senior living communities are thoughtfully designed to maximize safety and minimize chances of a fall. Spaces are fitted with safety equipment like handrails, grab bars, and walk-in showers. New residents are evaluated for fall risk based on their balance and gait, fall and medical history and use of assistive devices. Community staff receive special training in fall reduction and prevention.
- Physical wellness – It’s common for people to become less active as they get older. A sedentary lifestyle contributes to poor balance, loss of muscle strength and reduced flexibility–all of which can increase fall risk. Senior living communities offer daily opportunities for older adults to stay active, which improves strength and mobility.
- Healthy nutrition – Nutritional needs change as people age, but it’s often difficult for seniors aging at home to eat a balanced diet. A senior living community will provide well-rounded meals and nutritious snacks that are tailored to the needs of older adults. Healthy eating provides the foundation for healthy bone and muscle strength, which helps reduce the chances of a fall.
- Medication management – Drowsiness and dizziness are often side effects of medications commonly prescribed to seniors. These effects can be made worse when medication isn’t taken according to directions. Older adults at senior living communities have access to trained professionals who manage their medication by refilling prescriptions and reminding or administering medicine.
- Daily life assistance – Day-to-day chores and lifestyle habits can lead to conditions that make a fall likely. Does your parent have to navigate stairs in order to do laundry or leave the house? Do they have trouble getting in and out of bed? Do they wear well-fitted non-skid shoes? Does their clothing fit well without being too restrictive or too loose? At a senior living community, staff are on hand around the clock to discreetly help with dressing, grooming, meal preparation and eating.
The safety precautions and trained community staff at senior living communities minimize fall risk as much as possible. If the falls were due to any type of cognitive impairment – such as Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia – consider the benefits that a memory care community can provide, including secure neighborhoods, specially trained staff and programming to help manage cognitive ability.
We’re always here to help
As a leader in the industry, Atria Senior Living is happy to share our expertise and offer any support we can – even if the support you need is from someone other than us. We can call on our trusted relationships with other senior living organizations and resources to put you in touch with the best solution for you and your family. Please reach out to your local Atria Community Director today and they’ll be happy to help in any way they can.