Each year thousands of men and women are disabled, sometimes permanently, due to a fall. A fall to an older person can mean lifelong consequences and a loss of independence. With age, many people become more susceptible to falls because of health conditions that cause them to lose their sense of balance. Sometimes, as shown in Patient Safety Authority data, certain medications can cause a person to become dizzy or light-headed.
Overall, falls ranked as the third highest number (17%) of events reported in healthcare facilities to the Patient Safety Authority in 2006. Four percent were considered Serious Events, or events that caused harm to the patient. Older patients (age 65 and over) accounted for 62% of the total falls. These numbers are not surprising since older patients represent a larger representation in the healthcare system in general. However, there are steps that can be taken by the healthcare facility and the patient to reduce falls as much as possible. While Pennsylvania healthcare facilities have received their information on reducing falls through Patient Safety Advisories, here are some steps you can take in the hospital and at home to prevent falls. (Additional Source: National Institute on Aging)
In the Hospital:
- Keep personal items such as medications, drinks, books and the TV remote near you so that you do not have to get out of bed to reach them.
- Wear shoes/slippers with non-slip soles.
- Use all bars and handles made available to you for balance.
- Do not try to go to the bathroom without help if you are feeling dizzy.
- Do not try to go to the bathroom after taking certain medications such as sleeping pills. If you must go to the bathroom, ask for help.
- Be careful when using a wheelchair. Wheelchairs falling and tipping cause more deaths in persons over 65 years of age. Falls are more likely to occur when using a wheelchair if footrests, wheel locks or other parts do not work well or are loose.
- Have your eyesight and hearing checked often. Wear a properly fitted hearing aid and eyeglasses if told to do so by your doctor.
- Tell your doctor if you have recently fallen or have fallen a lot in the past.
- Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medications you take, including medicines you buy at the store, especially those used for pain or sleep.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if the drugs you take make you tired, dizzy or faint.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink, the smallest amount can affect your balance.
- Don’t get up too quickly after eating, lying down, or resting. Low blood pressure may cause dizziness at these times.
- Keep your room temperature comfortable. Being too hot or too cold can make you dizzy.
- Use a walking stick or cane if your walking is sometimes unsteady or you sometimes feel dizzy.
- Wear shoes that fully support your feet and have rubber-soles and low heels.
- Don’t wear smooth-soled slippers or just socks on stairs or waxed floors where you could easily slip.
- Keep up a regular program of exercise. This will help you become stronger. Check with your doctor to plan an exercise program that’s right for you.
- Don’t take chances. Do not walk on a freshly washed floor or stand on a chair or table to reach something. Use a “reach stick” (available at most medical supply stores) instead of bending to pick something from the floor or to reach an item up high.
- Keep your walkways clear and keep living areas well lit.
- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower floors.
- Make sure loose rugs in your living areas are taped down.
If you have problems with balance or dizziness, you may want to look into a medical monitoring system. This service works through your telephone line and provides a pager button to wear at all times in the home. Should you fall or need emergency medical assistance for any reason, a push of the button will alert the service. The service, in turn, will ask the emergency medical technicians in your community to help. There is a fee for such a monitoring service.
For copies of these tips and more healthcare consumer information, go to the Authority’s website at www.patientsafetyauthority.org, click on "Patients and Consumers." For more information on the risk of falls, go to "Browse by Topic" on the Authority's website, click on "Events" and then "Fall" or click here.