by: Shelley Webb
They don't just happen in nursing homes (in fact, only 10% of falls happen in a nursing home). My father fell all the time. He would fall when I was 3 steps away from him. He kept telling me "don't worry; I know how to fall" and that must have been true because he was never seriously injured from a fall later in life. The reason I say "later in life" is because a fall on a boom of logs was what broke his back and ultimately causing mobility issues.
Statistics show that 69% of elders over the age of 70 WILL fall. That's a HUGE number. Falls do not happen in convenient locations (i.e. in places where telephones just happen to be present).
There are things that we can do to prevent falls:
• eliminate throw rugs
• make sure that electrical cords are secured against walls
• provide for adequate lighting in walk-ways and all areas (remember to install motion detected night lights in hallways)
• avoid clutter
• make sure that all needed items are within reach so there is no temptation to use a stool or chair
• grab bars in bathrooms and sturdy handrails in places with steps are necessary (do NOT rely on towel bars)
• medical conditions can make falls more likely, so be aware of those
• recent hospitalizations may have debilitated the elder
• keep the elder hydrated and consuming adequate nutrients
• be aware that vision and gait problems can also cause falls
• persons with dementia may forget that they cannot do a specific dangerous task
Falls occur most often in bathrooms and on stairways. There are usually no telephones in those areas.
Here were the facts that I found most alarming:
If a senior fell and the response time for help was less than 3 hours, they had an 88.5% chance of returning home from the hospital if they needed to be brought there. If the response time was longer than 12 hours, there was only a 2.7% chance that the elder would be able to return home! But guess what??? The median response time for an elder who falls is... 17 hours!
This is why a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) is so important. One example of this is a button that is worn by the elder. If there is a fall, the elder can push the button which then sends a signal to an operator. This operator has information about the wearer, such as name, address, age, medications, allergies, personal physician, and location of a lock box where a spare key is hidden. The operator will immediately send a medical response team.
There are also PERS devices that use GPS and/or cellular technology so that if a person falls outside of their home (away from the device that is connected to their phone line) they can still request help.
There are many PERS suppliers and it's important to find a good one, of course. Check with both the American Association of Retired Persons and Alz.org for their recommendations. Please do your research to make sure that your personal needs will be met before purchasing ANY product.)
Also, if you have a father like mine (slightly stubborn, shall we say) who did not wish to wear any sort of alarm, a couple of things that you might say to convince them are "this is to make ME feel better, Dad... do it for me". Or you might compare the system to the Triple A card that many of us carry around "just in case" and that they may have given to US when we first learned to drive.
One other tactic you might employ in order to convince them to use a PERS is to tell them that wearing this device will actually help them to maintain their independence in the long run. Isn't that what they really want?
Geriatric Care Manager, Shelley Webb has been a registered nurse for almost 30 years, with experience in the fields of neonatal intensive care, dialysis, case management and eldercare. When her father came to live with her in 2005, the advantages of her medical experience became clear. Due to his dementia and congestive heart failure, her father was not able to care for himself alone any longer and so she took over these duties.
Having experienced the helplessness, frustration, overwhelm and even loneliness that caregiving for an aging parent brings, Shelley is well aware of the emotional and educational support that caregivers need and so she began The Intentional Caregiver web site. With its weekly newsletter, daily news updates and monthly audio interviews of experts in eldercare and supporting services, Shelley strives to encourage and educate caregivers so that they can be empowered to provide the best possible care for themselves while caring for their aging loved one(s).
In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, raising chickens, ballet classes and wine tasting.