Preventing falls in one of the foremost responsibilities of senior care providers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximately 1,800 nursing home residents die from falls annually, and more than half of residents will fall in any given year. Between 10% and 20% of nursing home falls cause serious injuries, and 2% to 6% cause fractures.
Falls rarely have a single cause. Instead, they are usually the result of a confluence of interwoven causes. It’s important that those responsible for clinical care at senior care facilities be mindful of the various factors that can contribute to a fall.
Here are seven fall risk factors that senior living providers can’t afford to ignore:
1. A History of Falls
One of the most reliable predictors of future falls is past falls. Senior communities should obtain a thorough fall history of all new residents so that they can proactively identify individuals who are at a high risk of falling. Providers should also carefully monitor and track any incidents that have occurred within the community so that they can personalize and perfect their fall prevention strategies.
2. Impaired Mobility and Gait
Naturally, residents who have come to develop trouble ambulating are at a higher risk of stumbling and falling. Changes in mobility and gait can be caused from issues ranging from foot problems, to a bruised knee, to muscle weakness, but whatever the cause, they invariably increase a senior’s risk of falling. Sometimes these changes in mobility and gait are apparent to a casual observer, and staff can appropriately intervene to reduce the risk. But other times these changes are subtle and not readily apparent to human observers.
Passive, sensor-based fall risk assessment technologies can use artificial intelligence to detect changes from norms, such as subtle changes in gait, which may not be obvious to a human observer but that none-the-less indicate an increased fall risk. These systems provide alerts that afford staff the opportunity to put in place extra safeguards to prevent falls when residents are at higher risk.
3. Sedentary Behavior
Elderly adults who rarely engage in physical activity experience an increased incidence of falls. Conversely, seniors who take part in physical activity and exercise that’s appropriate to their age and abilities see “significant reductions in falls that result in injuries”, wrote the authors of a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Senior communities can encourage all residents to participate in community fitness programs, and should take note if a resident’s activity level is waning. However, decreases in activity aren’t always immediately noticed by staff. This is another case where sensor-based passive monitoring technologies can help to detect behaviors that humans alone could not. Automated, ambient fall monitoring technologies can assess resident activity levels even when they are alone, and can notify staff if decreased activity may be an indication of illness or heightened fall risk.
4. Vision Problems
Sight problems are also a major contributor to falls. Conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, as well as depth perception issues can lead to falls. Senior living providers should exercise special caution when it comes to the safety of residents with vision problems. For instance, the living spaces of vision-impaired residents should be carefully assessed to make sure they are safe, accessible, and free of potential obstacles or hazards.
Medications can be a major contributor to fall risk among seniors. In particular, sedating medicines like benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Valium) can strongly increase a resident’s risk of falling. While these medications do have a role in treating conditions such as anxiety and insomnia, providers should aim to limit their use as much as possible. When a resident must take medications associated with an increased fall risk, providers are wise to take special care to acknowledge and address that risk. They should also know that, as a rule, the more medication a resident is taking, the higher their fall risk.
Dizziness can find its root in a variety of common health issues, including blood pressure drops and medication side effects. Dizziness is particularly hazardous because it is often accompanied by balance problems, and can come on suddenly and unexpectedly. Residents who complain of dizziness or vertigo-like symptoms should be carefully monitored.
The symptoms of diabetes can increase a senior’s fall risks through several different mechanisms. Circulation problems can make diabetic seniors more prone to foot and leg injuries that can contribute to falls, and changes in blood sugar levels can cause dizziness and faintness.
Caring for diabetic residents can be a major challenge for providers. It’s important that, when tackling this challenge, fall prevention strategies be part of a resident’s care plan.
Providers that thoroughly assess the fall risk of their residents can put in place safeguards that are tailored to each resident’s unique needs. Automated, personalized fall risk assessment technologies can help providers proactively manage and limit the number of adverse events such as falls. These efforts dramatically improve the quality of life of residents while simultaneously easing the often overwhelming job care providers face each day. At the same time, they can lead to increased occupancy rates by making the provider a more desirable option for consumers who are searching for the best long-term care in their area, plus lengthening the average stay of residents by keeping their residents healthier for longer periods of time.
What fall warning signs do you look out for in your resident population? Is there a particular warning sign that you believe is especially important to monitor? Share your thoughts below.