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Top 5 Ways to Reduce Falls in Senior Living Communities

By Dana LarsenJune 8, 2012
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When a senior falls and breaks a bone, it’s much more difficult to recover. In fact, hospitals and surgeries have been linked to a high rate of decline in the elderly, and in many instances—increased level of care for the duration of life after a senior falls. ALFA recently talked about the importance of  educating people about minimizing falls at senior living communities, and A Place for Mom would like to spread the word.

My grandmother recently fell in her senior living community and shattered her hip. She had to go through reconstructive hip surgery and is currently suffering through physical therapy. She’s wheelchair-bound and her quality of life went from quite good, despite her dementia, to very poor in a matter of seconds; all it took was one fall. This is why I’m tuned-in to the topic of senior falls. I’ve witnessed a happy woman become sullen and depressed as she struggles to walk again.

ALFA Seminar on Senior Fall Prevention

A 2012 Expo Conference session, Translating Research into Practice: Implementing Comprehensive Fall Management Across the Care Continuum, discussed evidence-based fall risk management techniques to help educate senior living professionals on how to minimize resident falls. The presenters, Alice Bell, the Vice President of Clinical Services at Genesis HealthCare, and Jennifer Sidelinker,  the Clinical Specialist in Physical Therapy at Genesis Rehab, suggested that senior living communities take a new approach to fall management.

According to Bell and Sidelinker, fall rates are highest and result in the greatest number of injuries among those with fair standing balance and the ability to rise from a chair. And while rehab providers may minimize fall risk during treatment, once rehab stops; the risk of another fall skyrockets.

The presenters both suggested a long term strategy towards fall management that encourages collaboration between rehab providers, senior living communities and the senior living residents they serve.

In a nut shell, these are the 5 tips recommended to help minimize senior resident falls:

  1. Know which residents are prone to falling. Those that have fallen before, for example, are 1.5 – 6.7 times more likely to fall, according to Bell and Sidelinker.
  2. Know which residents have cognitive impairment. Those who suffer from forms of dementia are more likely fall based on cognitive reasoning related to daily activities and balance.
  3. Know which residents have diabetes. Diabetes can be rather debilitating in tandem with old age. Those who suffer from diabetes may be predisposed to foot and leg injuries or may not have as good of balance as they compensate for other health conditions.
  4. Monitor female residents. Female residents are, statistically, more likely to fall so they should be monitored more closely.
  5. Start a resident workout plan. Many senior exercise programs have proven to be effective in helping to manage falls. The intervention has caused a 30 percent decrease in falls and a 37 percent decrease in falls resulting in an injury. The program is effective in part because of its continuum of care. 50 workout hours delivered within six months of integrated day-to-day senior living has show to be the most effective amount of exercise to help reduce resident falls.

After learning this intriguing information, I know that my grandmother fit into at least 3 of the risk categories for falls. It’s possible there could’ve been an intervention if more of her community staff where aware of the resident fall risks and help tactics. Granted, accidents do happen. But wouldn’t it be nice if communities at least took these tips into consideration? And here are some other Senior Fall Prevention tips to help minimize elderly falls.

And parting food for thought from Bell: “We need to leverage our resources effectively. We need to ensure the right people are focused on the right things at the right time. Part of this strategy involves recognizing that every community level employee should play a role in fall management. Empowering community fall risk managers with guidelines and guidance and ensuring that everyone has the same foundation of information is a critical component of reducing residents’ fall risk.”

Dana Larsen