Are Seniors at Greater Risk for Falls in Winter?
For seniors in California, rain-soaked sidewalks are not the biggest danger during the winter.
Falls are more common in the summer months than the winter, a new study by the North American Partners in Anesthesiology found. But the theme the authors of the study really wanted listeners to take away was that most falls happen indoors, and that risk is always present, no matter what season it is!
Statistics show that one-third of all elders who live at home will suffer a fall, and, surprisingly, nearly half of all nursing home residents will suffer a fall, despite having caregivers to watch over them.
In June, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a press release calling for greater action to reduce senior falls and the resulting injuries, which are expected to cost the government $59.7 billion by 2020. HUD also provided an in-depth toolkit, a downloadable resource that discusses solutions to prevent falls for those who work with the elderly. We sincerely hope nursing facilities will take this advice to heart to tackle this huge problem. Seniors in nursing homes should be the last people to suffer fall-related injuries!
How Can Nursing Homes Prevent Falls?
The elderly fall for many reasons, and falls are no joke. They are the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a program called STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries) which provides this advice to caregivers:
- Screen older adults for their potential for falls. Did they fall last year? Do they feel unsteady or worried on their feet? If an adult is at risk, then take steps to diminish the potential for a fall, including giving the patient a physical exam and a visual exam, educating him or her about preventing falls, modifying the living area to make it fall-proof, and working with family members to promote their loved one’s safety.
- Review all medications and switch or diminish the ones that increase the risk of fall. (One recent example would be Neudexta, a drug for treating pseudobulbar affect—involuntary and inappropriate laughing and crying due to a nervous system disorder).
- Recommend an increase in vitamin D and calcium supplements, which strengthen bones. In addition, seniors who are active and engaged in their community show much less mental decline, which is one of the things that causes falls. Nursing homes should encourage and empower residents to have a social life.
It goes without saying that nursing home staff must be vigilant at all times, tending to residents’ needs and always supervising them so that no harm can come to them. If nursing homes actually did this, it would eliminate almost all resident falls. But understaffing, use of restraints, and neglect make falls a serious problem in nursing homes nationwide.
How Can Family Members Help Prevent Falls?
We all cringe at the Life Alert commercials where an older woman lies helpless on the floor, calling “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” But this is a reality for many people, and it has devastating consequences. A fall may not kill someone right away (although it can), but it can lead to issues that catch up later, weakening someone at an age when it is harder to recover.
Family members, you can do your part to protect your elderly loved ones. STEADI provides a helpful brochure with the following tips:
- Talk to your loved one. Educate him or her about the risk of falls. Find out all you can about medications being prescribed and taken, and ask your loved one about the side effects. Ask healthcare providers about vitamin D supplements to improve bone, muscle, and nerve health in your loved one.
- Encourage your senior to move. Staying physically active will strengthen muscles, improve balance, and promote confidence.
- Check your loved one’s vision and footwear. Take him for an eye exam; ask her doctor to check her feet and see what shoes would be best to prevent falls.
- Make the home or room safe. Whether your senior is living at home or in a long-term care facility, clear any trip hazards you see on the floor, including slippery rugs. Add grab bars to the bathroom, and handrails to any stairs. Make sure there are lights everywhere so that your senior can see exactly what’s in his or her pathway.
What to Do After a Fall
If your loved one does fall, stay calm. Slowly assist him to a chair or bed. If he is too hurt to move, call 911 and help him into a comfortable position to wait for emergency medical responders.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that, on average, a 65-year-old adult will live another 20 years. After a lifetime of hard work—raising children, making a living, and contributing to their community and country—seniors deserve to rest and be taken care of.
For seniors, falls are never hilarious pratfalls—they are, quite literally, matters of life and death.
If you have questions about fall prevention or suspect your family member suffered a fall at a nursing home, speak to attorney Travis Siegel. Travis focuses his entire practice on the rights of the elderly. There is no cost to talk with him. Call Siegel Law today at (562) 645-4145.