When an elderly person falls, it’s definitely cause for concern. Even if they aren’t injured, a fall can be a sign of a more serious condition such as dehydration or vertigo. For that reason, if your loved one experiences a fall, you’ll want to be proactive about making sure they’re all right. You’ll also want to do everything you can to prevent future falls.
An elderly loved one’s fall can be scary enough—even if no serious injuries occur—but the prospect of future falls is equally as terrifying. One possible result of a fall (whether a first-time fall, or a repeat incident) is a hip fracture, which is linked to increased mortality rates amongst elderly patients. In fact, a 2011 study found that, by studying 428 Finnish elders over the age of 65, the risk of mortality in hip fracture patients is nearly 3 times higher than that in the general population, regardless of how serious the initial fall was.
No matter how serious your loved one’s fall is, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with the doctor and have him or her examine your loved one to check for injuries and underlying medical conditions. Just to be sure your loved one is safe before or after a fall, here are some simple measure to take to ensure the risk of them falling is as low as possible:
Ask Their Doctor About Their Medications
Medications are supposed to be helpful, not harmful. Unfortunately, there are certain medications your loved one may be taking that can increase his or her risk of falling. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have the doctor review your loved one’s medication list and check for any prescriptions that could have contributed to a fall. Examples include diabetes or blood pressure medication, sleeping medications, sedatives or tranquilizers (like Ambien or Ativan), certain pain medications, and anticholinergics (which include medication used for vertigo, nausea, depression, and allergies).
Observe Their Physical Balance
The doctor should also check your loved one’s gait and balance, which is usually done by observing how he or she walks. If balance problems, stiffness, or pain in the feet, joints, neck, or back is causing your loved one to fall, then you’ll want to explore solutions like getting them a cane or walker, or taking them to see a physical therapist.
Check Their Vision
A very important thing to check is vision. Have the doctor perform a vision test to find out if visual impairment is causing your loved one to fall.
Note Their Blood Pressure and Pulse
The doctor should also check your loved one’s pulse and blood pressure while sitting and standing. This is especially important if the fall was caused by fainting or light-headedness, or if your loved one takes blood pressure medication. Many elderly people experience a drop in blood pressure when standing up, which can cause light-headedness and fainting, leading to a fall.
Have Them Take A Blood Test
By taking a sample of your loved one’s blood, the doctor can check for problems such as uneven sodium levels and abnormal kidney function. If your loved one takes insulin or other diabetes medications, you may want to bring in his or her blood sugar log or the glucometer to show to the doctor.
Report Any Underlying Medical Conditions
In more serious cases, falls can be caused by a chronic heart or blood pressure condition like atrial fibrillation. Your loved one’s fall may also have been caused by a neurological condition like dementia or Alzheimer’s. While it’s more probable that the fall was simply caused by unsafe medication or physical impairments, it’s best to have the doctor check for more serious issues just to be safe—especially if your loved one falls repeatedly.
More commonly, falls are caused by things like dehydration, anemia, a urinary tract infection, Parkinson’s, and arthritis. Strokes are also a common cause of falls, especially mini-strokes that may be harder to identify. If you’ve noticed any symptoms, be sure to tell the doctor about these. Some symptoms that could signify an underlying condition include weakness, delirium, incontinence, pain, and problems with sight, hearing, or balance.
Maintain Vitamin D Levels
Not getting enough Vitamin D can cause fragile bones and contribute to falls in an elderly person. Vitamin D comes from the sun, so if your loved one spends most of his or her time indoors, there’s a good chance he or she isn’t absorbing enough Vitamin D. If this is the case, the doctor can prescribe a Vitamin D supplement or a higher dosage.
Falls in Nursing Homes
Many fear that their loved ones who live alone may fall within the privacy of their homes and go unassisted for minutes—or perhaps hours. Unfortunately, no amount of supervision can prevent a fall from happening, even in a nursing home or similar assisted living facilities. In 2014, 29 million falls occurred in elderly patients, causing 7 million injuries and costing an estimated $31 billion in annual Medicare costs.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that an average-sized nursing home (approximately 100 beds) will report between 100 and 200 falls each year, with an additional amount of falls going unreported. Approximately 1800 elderly patients die each year as a result of nursing home falls due to the fact that many of these patients have extenuating medical conditions, which caused them to move to nursing homes in the first place.
Causes of falls in nursing homes commonly include muscle weakness, walking or gait problems, environmental hazards, certain medications (or changes to medications), attempting to move without assistance, improper foot care (such as wearing improperly sized shoes), or the improper use and/or maintenance of walking aids.