From almost the first moment we take our first steps, we know falling down is possible. Toddlers will fall multiple times in a day and bounce right back up, but as people age, falling can become a true risk to their health.
The CDC reports that in a given year, one in four seniors will experience a fall, and falls are the leading cause of injury and death for adults 65 and older.
As a caregiver, it’s important to know what to do if the senior you’re caring for takes a tumble because doing the wrong thing could potentially make any injuries worse.
Assess the situation
As soon as you realize the older adult has fallen, make an assessment of the situation.
If the senior is unconscious, call for help immediately. While head injuries are not a good thing for anyone, they’re particularly concerning for seniors because many seniors have a larger number of chronic medical conditions that can increase their chances of dying from a head injury.
If the senior is responsive, ask that they remain still while you determine if there are any injuries that could be made worse by moving. If you discover what you think could be a broken bone or a spinal or head injury, ask the senior to remain still and call for help. Signs of serious injury can include swelling, bruising and bleeding. Stay with the senior and keep them warm and calm while you wait for help.
Once you’ve determined no serious injuries have occurred, you can help the senior to get up. It’s important to remember the person who has fallen needs to get up on their own, if possible. Offer assistance but don’t lift them. They should be able to get up with just light assistance from you.
Provide instruction and stability
Before having the senior attempt to stand, identify a place for them to sit. This can be a nearby chair, or you can use two chairs—one placed in front of the person who fell and one placed behind them. If you’re using two chairs, the chairs should be facing each other with enough space between them for the senior to get to their feet.
Instruct the person who fell to roll onto their side, assisting them if necessary. Keep the senior in this position for a minute or two to allow their blood pressure to adjust.
Next, have them push to their hands and knees, offering light assistance where necessary. If you’re using a single nearby chair, have the senior crawl over to the chair and place their hands on the chair seat while moving one leg so the knee is bent at a 90-degree angle parallel to the floor and their foot is on the floor. Keep the other knee on the floor.
Using their hands for balance on the chair seat, have the person who fell push against the seat and slowly rise to their feet, turning so they can sit in the chair.
If you’re using two chairs, have the senior place their hands on the seat of the chair in front of them, following the same procedure of keeping one knee on the floor and bending the other at a 90-degree angle so their foot is on the floor. Instruct the senior to push to their feet and sit in the chair behind them.
Once seated, assess the senior for minor bruises and scratches that may need first aid.
After a fall
Seniors can fall for a variety of reasons, but if the person you’re caring for falls, it’s a good idea to have them checked by a doctor in the next few days, even if they aren’t injured or suffer only minor cuts and bruises.
While a person may have fallen because they simply stumbled over something in their way, a variety of conditions and medications can also be the culprit, which is why it’s important to have a senior who has fallen checked out as soon as possible.
It may be the person has an undiagnosed underlying condition causing them to be wobbly on their feet, or they may need a change in medication or dosage to keep them stable when moving around.
The senior’s vision, hearing or blood pressure may also have contributed to their fall, which is another thing a doctor can assess. They may also need a mobility aid, which a doctor can suggest after studying the person’s gait and steadiness.
In the immediate aftermath of a fall, keep a close eye on the person who fell. Sometimes injuries, especially head injuries, don’t show up right away. If the senior seems unusually sleepy, complains of a headache or blurred vision, or vomits, get them to a doctor right away.
The best way to deal with falls is to prevent them from happening. This may mean rearranging a room, providing a mobility aid or even adjusting medication.
Regular exercise that focuses on the leg muscles can also help prevent falls in older adults. While there’s no “safe” way to fall, adding exercises that focus on balance and stability can be helpful in keeping older adults on their feet.
So, while falls are a leading cause of injury and death for seniors, knowing how to prevent them and what to do if the senior you’re caring for does fall can help improve the outcome.