For the elderly, falls can be deadly, and many of these deaths are not immediate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2009, 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 581,000 of these patients were hospitalized.
Seniors who survive falls may slowly decline as a result of their injuries. The CDC says, “20% to 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, or head traumas. These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently, and increase the risk of early death.”
With so many elders’ lives cut short, or reduced in quality due to falls, caregivers understandably seek ways to lower the risk. Emergency responders see the causes of many falls and can offer additional ideas for prevention. According to Robert Gurliacci BPS, EMT-P, Assistant Professor at SUNY/Westchester Community College’s Department of Prehospital Emergency Medical Services, rubber-soled shoes would prevent many falls. “Walking around the house in socks is extremely dangerous for older adults,” says Professor Gurliacci.
Awareness of fall risk is especially important for the many elders who take multiple medications. Several medications may be necessary, but can be one of several other risk factors for falling.
Aside from preventing falls, caregivers who monitor medications help avoid other emergencies. Professor Gurliacci recommends arranging medications into pill organizers. “We respond to patients with common conditions like hypertension and heart failure who have neglected or forgotten to take their medications.” He cautions, “Seniors must take these medications regularly and may need help from a family member to make it easier to remember.”
Attempting to remember medication dosages and schedules can cause confusion in seniors and lead to hospital readmissions. The proverbial ounce of prevention may mean a bit more work for families and caregivers who divide the medications and aid with scheduling, but it could prevent tragic disasters or at least hours spent in the emergency room.
When the elder lives alone or spends time alone, prepare for the worst-case-scenario and have medical information accessible to emergency workers. Based on his experience as a paramedic, Professor Gurliacci recommends keeping medical and contact information taped to the inside of the front door as well as on the night-table and inside a wallet.
Caregivers and families can make crucial information easy-to-read and updated by using the Care Diary. Print out the diary when you make changes and keep it in all the places where emergency workers will find it. With the names and contact information of the attending physician and family members, as well as the medications used, it will be easier for emergency responders to deliver the most appropriate care.
To learn more about fall prevention among elders, view eCareDiary’s Empowering Family Caregivers’ Video Interview with Nicholas Lampiasi, Senior Regional Director of New York City/Long Island for Fox Rehabilitation.
Kim Harke is a health care technical writer specializing in compliance. She holds a Master’s in history from New York University.