Did you know? September 20-24 is Falls Prevention Week! Throughout my career in home health, falls have always been a relevant topic. We have tried to do everything we can to educate our physicians on the signs to look for, and guide families and patients on how to prevent falls from happening.
I hear from our families way too often that our patients “were fine and independent before their recent fall.” It’s only after the fall and hospitalization that families start gathering information regarding Physical Therapy in the home.
After a fall everything changes. We must all learn how to operate in this new world where mom or dad may not be okay at home by themselves. Where we once found stability in our parents, now we find fear. Our fear of not providing them the level of care they need after all those years where they cared for us. Our parents’ fear of moving around freely in their home without another fall. Our fear when we haven’t heard from them in a day or two.
In this blog I want to take some time to discuss who is at risk for falling, what you can do to reduce fall risks, how falls affect our seniors, and how falls affect our healthcare system.
Our seniors are at a great risk for falls. Here are some risk factors to consider:
Decreased physical abilities and acute chronic health ailments. If a senior develops a fear of falling or risk taking, it could limit their movement. And we all know, if you don’t use it you lose it!
Medications. The type and quantity of medication they are on can cause dizziness and weakness which can contribute to falls. Tranquilizers, sedatives, antidepressants, and blood pressure medication are some examples of these medications.
Habits. A lack of activity and exercise, poor sleep patterns, poor nutrition can all impact a fall risk.
Environmental hazards. Tables and rugs that can easily be tripped on, clutter in the home, and poor lighting can all be an issue.
So I might fall? What’s the big deal? Well, there are a lot of negative consequences that are possible with a fall. According to the CDC, falls can cause:
· Broken bones like wrist, arm, ankle, and hip fractures.
· Head injuries which can be very serious, especially for those on certain medications like blood thinners.
· A fear of falling. That’s a big deal because when someone has a fear of falling, they will cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker, and this increases their chances of falling.
What can you do to reduce fall risk?
Exercise! It increases energy levels, improves strength, flexibility, blood pressure, blood sugar, and helps you feel great!
Eye Exams. By age 65, seniors need three times as much light to see than they did at age 20.
Footwear. Wear rubber-soled, slip resistant shoes. Footwear is everything!
Home Safety Evaluation. Obtain a home safety evaluation or checklist provided by most home health companies
Alert System. Look into an alert systemin case of an emergency. That way if a senior does fall and gets hurt, they can obtain help right away.
TUG test. (Timed Up and Go test). The TUG Test assesses mobility. The tester needs a stopwatch, a tape measure, and a way to create a temporary line on the floor about 10 feet away from a standard armchair. The patient should wear regular footwear and use a walking aid, if needed. The patient sits in the chair; when the tester says “go” and starts the stopwatch, the patient stands up and walks at her normal pace to the line on the floor, turns, walks back to the chair and sits down again. The tester time show long it takes for the patient to complete the task. A patient that takes longer than 12 seconds to complete the TUG test is at high risk of falling, according to the Oncology Nursing Society.
Finally, how do falls impact our healthcare system? Falls are serious and costly.
· According to the CDC, over 800,000 patients every year are hospitalized because of a fall injury.
· At least 300,000 seniors are hospitalized for hip fractures. In 2015, the medical costs for falls totaled more than $50billion.
· Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
· Even more frightening, fall death rates in the US increased 30% from 2007 to 2016 for older adults, according to the CDC.
· If these rates continue to rise, we can anticipate 7 fall deaths every hour by 2030.
It is our responsibility to open our eyes and recognize the warning signs. To seek an intervention before the falls happen and life changes for everyone. When it’s you in their shoes, you are going to want that same attention. Just remember, it’s not if it’s you- it’s when it’s you. We may not be able to stop a fall from happening, but just imagine the possibilities if we could prevent it for a few more years…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kristine Fadely is a Home Care Specialist with All About Care, A Care Advantage, Inc Company. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her family.