Top 5 Tips for Preventing Falls for Seniors

November 3, 2015
Vince Baiera
A stethoscope and a mask laying flat.

It’s estimated that each year between 700,000 and 1,000,000 people in the US fall in the hospital. A fall can result in lacerations, fractures, internal bleeding, and can lead to an extended hospital stay. But it’s estimated that one-third of falls can be prevented. Nursing professional Vince Baiera shares his experiences in helping older people avoid having those falls.

Throughout my career in nursing, I have seen thousands of patients who struggle with the same problem — mobility! 

Every person will ultimately face challenges in their mobility. It’s important to realize that falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries each year in seniors.

Our priority as healthcare providers is always patient safety. Advocating for the patient is necessary in all aspects of care, including patient transfer. By implementing small changes, we can help avoid hundreds of thousands of falls each year and save money in healthcare costs.

Here are five simple steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of a patient falling.

1. Take your time

As you hustle all day to provide great care, it’s easy to be in a hurry to stay on track. Rushing a patient to their feet can lead to hypotension and cause the patient to become light-headed if they get up too quickly. First and foremost, take your time. Allow the patient time to compose themselves after rising from a lying or sitting position. Assess the environment around you with a clear plan of what’s needed and the steps you will take to accomplish the transfer. Explain the plan to the senior and gauge their cooperation and ability. Transfer your patient carefully and accidents can be avoided.

2. Exercise regularly

It’s important as healthcare professionals that we’re capable of performing the daily tasks of the unit. It’s part of the job. To help with this, it’s good to schedule at least three days a week of 30–60 minutes of exercise. Weights, cardio, yoga, pilates, Zumba, and even stretching can be good exercise. The key is scheduling the days into the time that you dedicate to spend on yourself. Be committed (don’t just do it when it’s convenient) to work out so you will be able to provide optimal patient care. If nothing else, 20 minutes of walking each day at lunch can help.

3. Ask for help

Most of us know to do this, but it’s easy to “go for it” when the unit is crazy and no one’s around to help. You’re in a hurry and you think, “OK, I can do this.” I would do this at times because as a bigger guy, physically, I could get away with it. There were a few times this almost cost me and the patient a fall. If you aren’t able to help the patient transfer by yourself, don’t chance it.

4. Make the room less hazardous

Take a minute to double check your patient and the immediate area around them before attempting to transfer them. Cords, wires, and tubes are easy to spot. It’s the leg of a chair or spilled water that can trip you up (literally and figuratively) and cause a fall. Take your time, assess the area, and perform a safe transfer.

5. Talk to your patient

We all know to do this, but making sure your patient is clear on how they can help transfer is vital. Speaking slowly, clearly, respectfully, and loud enough will help your patient give optimal assistance. A simple way to assess their understanding is to ask them to repeat your directions. 

Fear of falling 

Many people who fall—even if they’re not injured—develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, which leads to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, and in turn increases their actual risk of falling. This increased fear is common and should not be looked down upon—it’s normal! 

Encourage your patients to ask for help

Pride is a powerful thing, especially in today’s older population. Encourage your patients to wait for you and ask for help if they feel uncomfortable at all. It’s important to remind them that you want to help them and that you’d prefer to help them. Empathy is key here to reinforce your willingness to help them so they will ask for help when they need it.

My grandfather struggles with this. As an 82-year-old man who has been wildly independent his whole life, he finds asking for help is not always easy. He lives with the challenges of Alzheimer’s and mobility issues and has fallen five times in the last year. We continually plead with him to allow us to help him and his pride sometimes gets in the way, but he’s getting better.

Keep the home environment safe

With years of nursing and teaching in the healthcare field, I have made it my personal mission to help seniors remain independent longer and prevent unnecessary injuries. I feel that every person should start to implement changes in their home as soon as they start to have problems going up and down stairs. This is a good indicator that mobility is starting to slow and now is the time to make changes to help keep the home environment safe and prevent falls and injuries every day.
Vince Baiera has more than six years’ experience as an ICU nurse at some of the top hospitals in the US, including The Cleveland Clinic and Duke University. Also experienced as a travelling RN and in educating nursing students as a Lead Faculty Instructor, Vince developed the step2rest, which helps reduce the risk of falls for seniors getting in and out of bed.

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