How to Prevent Falls in the Elderly: Tips from a trauma nurse

Falling is a real concern for the elderly because it can cause permanent disability and even death

Since falling is such a serious concern for the elderly, we asked one of our trauma nurses, Rhonda Thompson, EMT, RN, what we can all do to protect our loved ones.  Here’s what she told us:

Q: Are falls really a big concern?

Falls have become a public health crisis according to the American Trauma Society. They are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults. One out of every three adults age 65 and older falls each year. Of those, two out of three will fall again within six months. Of those reported, 20 to 30 percent will sustain moderate to severe injuries, which will prevent them from returning home or living alone again.

Q: What can happen if a senior or elderly person falls?

As an experienced ER/trauma nurse, I have encountered many traumatic injuries that are direct results of falls. The older adult population surpasses any other age group in this area of injury.  Many of these patients end up with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and often do not have good outcomes. This tends to lead to extended hospital stays, longer rehabilitation, permanent disabilities, and death, resulting in extreme health care expenses and strain on medical facilities and families.

Q: How can we prevent falls in the elderly?

Approximately half of the falls occur at home. This is where many older adults spend most of their time. Modification of the living environment can reduce the chances of falling at home. Some of the everyday situations that should be evaluated and possibly modified for fall prevention include:

  • Toilets may need raised seats and installed grab bars.
  • Clutter: Items such as books, clothes, newspapers, and shoes should be removed from any walk areas.
  • Rugs:  Remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them to the floor including edges and corners.

  • Reachable – Keep frequently-used items at levels that are easily reached.

Tell your doctor if you have fallen in the past, have difficulty walking or getting out of bed or chairs, have difficulty maintaining balance while walking, or have been feeling weak or dizzy. The doctor will most likely want to do a fall risk assessment, which should include having your vision checked and a review of your medications. The doctor will look for causative medical conditions, amongst a few.

An exercise routine that include walking and stretching will maintain strength and balance and is a good way to help prevent falls. In the hotter and colder months, indoor malls make good places to walk early in the morning before it gets too busy. Always check with your health care provider before beginning any exercise programs or altering medications so that they can tailor them to your specific needs.

The Bottom Line

If you have an elderly person in your life, be aware of the ever-present danger of falling and take these simple prevention steps today.  Your diligence can keep them safe and healthy.

Resources

www.amtrauma.org

www.cdc.gov

www.stopfalls.org

Rhonda Thompson, a licensed EMT and Registered Nurse, is the Injury Prevention Coordinator, for Botsford Hospital Trauma Services.

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