4 Principles to Prevent Senior Slips and Falls
Slipping and falling is one of the leading causes of injuries for seniors. These falls can not only impact physical well-being, but also mental wellness. Focusing on prevention can help decrease the risk of potential life-altering accidents.
Retired Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. M.E. Hecht has published an informative handbook called, The Slip and Fall Prevention Handbook: You Make the Difference. This handbook provides best practices in avoiding fall-related injuries. Dr. Hecht has written the following article for A Place for Mom readers with practical tips to help keep your senior loved one safe.
The Alarming Facts
The startling news about our home, that premier haven of safety, is… that it’s not! Some statistics that you would do well to know are that:
- 70% of serious injuries, requiring emergency room visits and often surgery, happen within or just out of 30 yards of your home.
- The most common of these are hip or other fractures, and traumatic brain injuries.
- It does not matter whether your home is a walk up one-roomer, or a McMansion, if you are 55 or over, you are part of the serious injury-vulnerable population.
If this sounds alarmist, I assure you as an Orthopedic Surgeon with over 35 years’ experience of seeing and treating just such unfortunate events, it is just the plain facts.
But will these statistics become an inevitable fact of life for you or those near and dear to you? Is a traumatic slip and fall built into your home and age? The good news is no! Not if you’re proactive on your own behalf, that is.
You Make the Difference
The only question that then remains is: how?
A Place for Mom has published cogent and practical advice many times on how to avoid slip and fall trouble. I would like to add some underlying principles and methods that can be used anytime and anywhere. They are founded on the principle of how you can avoid trouble in general.
Principle 1: Stay in the Moment
What I mean by “staying in the moment” is being mindfully aware of what is going on, not only with you but also around you. If your mind wanders, or you are thinking about something other than exactly where you are and what you’re doing, you’re asking for trouble, especially the kind of trouble that can lead to a slip or fall.
Let’s say you are coming down a home stairway on your way to shopping. Don’t let your mind wander onto the grocery list, or your cell phone. Be sure to:
- Pay attention to the steps, and by all means use railings when available.
- Look for a defect in carpeting or step risers.
- If you feel the slight bit dizzy, stop, be sure you have a firm grip on the railing, and take a deep breath.
- Travel on down carefully and slowly, there is no need to rush.
- If you still feel uneasy, just sit down right where you are and call for help.
- Stay in the moment by being aware and helping yourself.
Although the staircase is only one example, think of the principle often, let’s say when you’re preparing a meal, driving a car or even crossing a familiar street — stay in the moment!
Principle 2: Stop Look and Listen
Teach yourself to pause, look around at your surroundings, or if appropriate, listen.
Think before entering your own living room, especially if the lights aren’t on (you may have left something not where it belongs but in the way). Or, when you’re in your car, while still in park or foot is on brake, take a good look all around, and because every car has a ‘blind spot’ put your window down and listen to your surroundings — stop, look and listen!
Principle 3: The Three-Look Method
This principle is especially good when entering a room, whether it’s your own living room, a room into which you’ve never been, or any outside venue.
First, be sure to:
- Look Low: At floor, street or rug level — is there anything that might give you a problem (loose rugs, high curbs, left objects)?
- Look Level: At about chair level—is anything in your way?
- Look Up: Toward the ceiling. Is there enough light for you to proceed safely or do you need to turn something on?
In the beginning you may think it’s a bother, but believe me, over time you will become more adept, and if you do this consistently, you will avoid injury.
Principle 4: Never Rush
Even if you think the house is on fire, don’t rush or run. Also, don’t dash to open the front door. However long it takes you to walk calmly over, whoever or whatever is on the outside will wait if it’s of any importance.
I think at this point you get the idea.
You’ve Fallen, Now What?
Finally, despite your carefulness, you should know what steps to follow if you’ve taken a fall.
Step One: Stop. Stay exactly where you’ve fallen. Take a few deep breaths, then use your medic-alert call device or your cell phone if you have these on your person and summon help. If not, yell and then yell again. Sooner or later someone will hear you.
Step Two: Do not try to rise immediately, until you’ve accomplished step three.
Step Three: Do a self-check to assess where and how you may be injured. You will sense whether you’re badly hurt or even whether you’ve broken a bone. If help hasn’t come repeat step one until it does.
If you’ve ascertained you’re not seriously hurt, and if no one has come to give you a hand, here is what I’ve told my patients are the measures to follow:
Inside Your Home:
- Roll onto your side
- Bend your knees up to your waist
- Inch your way over to the nearest stable object (for example a chair or bed)
- Reach up and grab the object firmly while still on your side
- Scrunch up close to the object
- Using your free hand as a push-up and the object in the other, roll over onto your knees
- If you succeed, use both hands on the object to help you rise to a standing position and then turn and sit as soon as possible
Outside Your Home:
- Stay down
- Do not let someone try to help you until you have done a self-assessment
- If you’re offered a coat or jacket, accept it
- At this point someone will probably have called 911 and if you have any doubts, stay down
- If you think you can get up, use the nearest sturdiest onlooker as you would a chair in your own home
In general, don’t be embarrassed to let others help you. However, if there’s any doubt in your mind about your injury, wait for the EMT people to arrive.
Major principle — remember no matter what — that you make the difference!
About the Author
M.E. Hecht, M.D., is a published author, freelance writer and Orthopedic Surgeon. Her published books and articles have been written for Vogue Magazine, Sunrise River Press, The Wall Street Journal, American Medical News, Medical Tribune, Nations Business and others. She is also author of “A Practical Guide to Hip Surgery” and “The Slip and Fall Prevention Handbook, You Make the Difference” — both books are available online at Amazon.
Copyright, M.E. Hecht, 2014
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