Every 14 seconds, an older adult is treated for a fall in an emergency department somewhere in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year, one in three adults over 65 suffers a fall, which can result in broken bones, serious head injuries, the loss of independence or even death. We end up seeing many of these types of patients on the Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) Unit at Christiana Hospital.
That is why it’s so important for older people and the folks who love them to fall-proof their homes. At the ACE Unit at Christiana Hospital, we marked Fall Prevention Awareness Day on Sept. 23 with a demonstration of tripping hazards and strategies to avoid getting injured.
Michelle Ellana, patient care technician, and Courtney Keen, RN, who are the WISH (We Improve Senior Health) champions on the ACE unit, staged what might be a real-life room in a home, complete with a slippery, bunched-up area rug, an exposed extension cord and toys strewn on the floor.
The fictional occupant of the room is Mister Tipster, a mannequin dressed like an elderly gentleman, who reminds seniors to ask their doctors about their medications, avoid flowing clothes and get an eye examination every year.
After touring Mister Tipster’s room, Bonnie Lake, a 73-year-old patient from Millsboro, decided she will work with her daughter to make lots of positive changes when she leaves the hospital.
“I have a little dog, and her toys are everywhere,” she said. “She drips water from her bowl onto the wood floors in the kitchen, and I had been laying towels on the floors to protect them. I can see how it would be easy to slip on a towel.”
She also will give up wearing flip-flops in favor of sturdy shoes with a non-skid sole. She will put away the shoes she keeps on the mudroom floor by the back door.
Many of the things we do to prevent falls are common-sense solutions. Get rid of the throw rugs. Keep floors free of clutter. Install a nightlight in the bathroom. Put bells on the collars of small pets so people who don’t see well can hear when Fluffy and Fido are underfoot.
Simple changes can make home a much safer place. Install grab bars beside the tub, shower and toilet. Use a long-handled grasping device to pick up items without bending.
It isn’t easy to change. But learning to ask for help is one of the best ways to prevent falls. Don’t stand on a chair to change a light bulb or put a fresh battery in the smoke detector. Ask a younger neighbor or relative to do it. (Most people are happy to help.) Hire someone to clean the gutters instead of risking a fall from a ladder.
A physical therapist visiting a patient who is home from the hospital can do an on-site assessment and make recommendations on ways to prevent falls. There are helpful lists and checklists for people at risk of falling and their families.
Preventing falls starts with us.