The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that one out of three adults aged 65 or older fall each year, but less than half discuss the incident with their health care provider. When seniors aren’t talking, but continue to fall, health care providers know the combination can be a dangerous one.
The Cost of Falls
In 2013, more than 734,000 seniors were hospitalized for falls and in that same year, the direct medical costs for falls were $34 billion. Falls are a serious (and costly) challenge to say the least. Seniors must find ways to pay for the extra doctor’s visits, while senior living executives are feeling a crunch in the form of residents changing to facilities with higher levels of care proceeding a fall.
The CDC adds that 20 to 30 percent of seniors who fall suffer injuries, such as lacerations, hip fractures or head trauma. These types of moderate to severe injuries make it difficult to live independently. When this same age group refuses to wear alert bracelets or pendants because of the stigma they feel is associated with them, or even acknowledge they did fall, caregivers must find another option to monitor for falls.
Technology to Prevent Falls
Prevention is the best type of medicine for falls, and technology is rising to meet the challenge. Options are available that go beyond simply alerting caregivers after a fall has occurred to actually assessing and monitoring a patient’s risk for falls, then preventing them before they occur. While fall alert systems such as pendants and bracelets, as well as other types of fall alert alarms are useful, such solutions all address a situation after it occurs, not before – and many require action to be taken by the wearer in order to function.
What if a senior living community could identify changes in residents’ behaviors that signaled an increase in their fall risk? Such advanced warning would allow caregivers to intervene and take steps to address the underlying causes of the elevated fall risk (and potentially prevent falls from occurring in the first place). This phenomenon isn’t a far-off technical marvel of the future – it’s available today thanks to passive health monitoring technology that utilizes advanced sensors and in some cases, artificial intelligence, to protect against and prevent falls.
Choosing the Best Fall Risk Assessment Technology
Choosing the best fall risk assessment technology is an important task senior living management should approach with care for the facility and individual, but also with a business mind. There are a variety of considerations to weigh and analyze during the process.
What’s the baseline?
First, a senior living executive must know his or her residents and also their surroundings. What is the senior housing population like? What are the residents’ behavioral habits? Their daily schedules? Ask any regular caregiver and they can tell you who sleeps after lunch, and who naps before. A facility’s caregivers are an executive’s best line of defense when it comes to addressing fall prevention and knowing what constitutes a change in behavior.
Beyond caregivers using their eyes and ears, passive monitoring technology can also be used to discreetly assess a residents’ typical behavioral patterns without interrupting their day-to-day activities.
Once the “baseline” activities have been established (be it via technology or astute observations of staff members), deviations from this “baseline” can clearly be identified and established as potential fall risks or indicators of other changes to a residents’ health status.
How will you measure change?
After residents’ baseline fall risk has been determined, the next step for senior living executives is to decide what fall risk assessment tests will be the most beneficial for the community. The Timed Up and Go (TUG), Functional Reach Test, and Turn 180° are the most commonly used tests for gait and balance impairments. They offer scores of time, distance and step count, respectively, all of which are quantifiable and repeatable. This helps caregivers monitor residents for improvement or decline, and in turn, the risk for falls – but does require manual action on the caregiver’s part.
While assessments such as the classic Timed up and Go, Functional Reach Test, and Turn 180° tests require a practitioner to administer them, tabulate, and track the results, automated assessments conducted by passive monitoring technology and interpreted by artificial intelligence software offer facilities a hands-off option to determine their residents’ fall risk. This type of passive monitoring technology offers alerts when falls occur, but also when a resident’s fall risk status changes, and provides a reliable way to manage both gait and balance.
There will always be challenges to finding and implementing a new technology, but what is the cost to a facility and the senior population if falls are not effectively monitored and prevented? Research shows it is great. As a senior living executive, weigh the options, but first of all, know you have them.