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Why should I be concerned about falls?
Falls are a significant health risk. Falls are the leading cause of injury related to hospitalization. Falls threaten a person’s health and their quality of life.
Adults with developmental disabilities have an increased risk of falling – 1 in 3 compared to 1 in 5 in the general population over the age of 65. In addition, they are more likely to experience an injury, such as a broken bone or head injury, after a fall. And, with each fall, the chance of falling increases.
What can I do to prevent falls?
Falls are preventable. As a service provider, you can help prevent falls by training staff to practice the four “E”s:
Most falls are caused by a combination of personal and environmental risk factors. Personal risk factors include side effects from medication, underlying medical conditions, poor eyesight, unsteady gait and balance, and muscle weakness. Environmental factors such as poor lighting, unstable furniture, clutter and other hazards in the home, also contribute to falls.
Evaluation – What increases a person’s risk of falling?
Evaluation of personal risk of falling is the first step in planning for fall prevention. The risk of falling is increased for a person who has, for example: fallen before; difficulty walking; poor balance; difficulty rising from a low chair or bed; poor eyesight or hearing; been taking multiple medications; foot pain or been wearing improper footwear; or a fear of falling. Have staff begin the evaluation by asking these simple questions.
Did the person fall in the past year?
Does the person seem unsteady when standing or walking?
Do they worry about falling?
The next step is to talk to the person’s doctor about the person’s fall risk. Start with the completed checklist. Discuss medical conditions such as epilepsy or osteoporosis that may increase a person’s risk of falling and injury. Urinary tract infections can cause disorientation and fatigue.
Talk to the doctor to understand how medications may affect a person’s strength and balance. Have an eye doctor check vision and renew eyeglass prescriptions each year. Assistive devices such as wheelchairs, canes and walkers are meant to decrease risk. However, they may create an additional risk factor if not maintained or used properly. Also, make sure the person has comfortable and proper foot wear.
Exercise – How does it help?
Everyone can benefit from exercise. Physical activity – walking, gardening, dancing, swimming, Tai Chi – can all help to increase strength, mobility and balance for all individuals, but especially those at risk for falling.
Staff can explore the community. Go for a walk. Find classes offered through churches, parks and recreation services, and senior centers. All of these provide exercise classes specifically designed to increase strength and balance.
Getting people interested and committed to an exercise program isn’t always easy. Go4Life
provides motivational ideas for both support staff and persons at risk. The site also provides activities and exercises specifically designed to help people build balance and keep from falling. Work together to create a plan for safe physical activity (what, when, where) and do it. Everyone will benefit.
Environment – What can I do to increase home safety?
Most falls happen in the home. Falls are often due to hazards that are easy to fix. Find and fix hazards in the home using the “Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist
”. Look at floors, stairs and steps, kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms for: poorly lit rooms, hallways and stairwells; broken or uneven steps or other surfaces; throw rugs that can be tripped over; no handrails along stairs or in the bathroom; broken or unstable furniture; wet slippery surfaces; unexpected obstacles; and, wires, cords and clutter. Most things are simple fixes that can literally save a person’s life.
Also be aware of outdoor hazards such as uneven sidewalks, curbs, and slippery streets after a rain. Make sure people have shoes fit for the activity and weather.
Education – How do I bring fall prevention into practice?
Train staff how to recognize risks for falls and prevention steps to take. Train staff to identify, remove, or fix environmental hazards, or report problems as needed. And finally, make sure staff and persons at risk know how to prevent falls and what to do if someone falls.
Develop a fall prevention plan for every person identified as being at risk. Enlist support staff, the person at risk, and as needed, their doctor, physical therapist and others in developing and implementing the plan. Make sure everyone knows what to do. Keep awareness high. Check for success. Meet with support staff and the person at risk on a regular basis to discuss implementation of fall prevention plans. Review documentation from any falls. Talk about what works or doesn’t work for the individual. Make changes to the plan as necessary.
For more information, links to fall prevention tools and an index to the Fall Prevention materials, go to SafetyNet - Supporter Article: You Can Prevent Falls.