What to Do When Your Senior Parent Falls

parent is falling

Maybe you are a family caregiver, or maybe your elderly parent doesn’t need that level of care yet, but either way, you do everything you can to keep your loved one safe and healthy. But there is only so much of you to go around. You can’t be vigilant around the clock, all day, every day. Despite your best efforts, there could be times when your senior parent falls down, despite your best fall prevention efforts in the home.

While most falls don’t result in serious injury, one in five falls does lead to serious issues, including head trauma and broken bones[1]. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in adults over the age of 65[2]. In addition, the CDC points out that once an elderly person falls, they can become afraid of falling again, which then leads to less confidence – and that actually increases their odds of falling again.

If your loved one falls, there are some things you can do to help immediately.

Helping a Parent who has Fallen

During the first moments you realize what has happened, you might feel an overwhelming sense of fear and panic. But since they probably feel the same way, staying calm is essential. Take a few deep breaths to bring your heart rate down and center your thoughts.

Approach your parent with a calm demeanor. Are they injured? Ask them if they are, but also look for yourself to see if there are any limbs resting at odd angles, any blood or bruising, skin discoloration, or indications that they are in serious pain, such as crying or grimacing. Remember that while many injuries might be obvious, such as broken bones, others might not be clear, such as a head injury. If there is any clear injury, it’s time to get help. Hopefully you’ve chosen an emergency response solution for your loved one that you can use immediately to get assistance on the way.

If you are reasonably sure they haven’t been injured, it’s time to help them get up from the floor. This requires great care and patience. Here’s how to do it[3]:

·         Once you’ve determined that they aren’t suffering serious injury or bleeding, encourage them to start slowly and take their time in getting up. You should not lift them! This can lead to serious damage to your own body, which can compromise your caregiving abilities.

·         Place two sturdy chairs near your parent. These will be used for support and leverage as they get up.

·         Help them get on their hands and knees. Then, they should place their hands on the seat of the first chair, making sure it’s sturdy underneath them. This puts them in a kneeling position with their knees on the floor and their hands on the chair in front of them.

·         Then they will lean forward and pull their stronger leg up underneath them. That puts one knee on the floor and one foot flat on the floor.

·         They will then use their arms and their strong leg to push themselves up. This can be tough as it requires a lot of strength to move their body weight. Have the second chair behind them and ready for them to sit in the moment they rise from the floor.

·         Don’t hesitate to help your loved one balance as they rise, but don’t lift them. Help them settle into the chair to catch their breath.

·         Keep them seated until you are sure they can stand on their own. As they do, stay close by to ensure that they don’t fall again as they find their balance.

It’s important to stress here that your loved one should do most of the work of getting up. Not only does this save your back and protect you from injury, it helps in assessing how bad the fall really was. If they have serious difficulty in getting up, it’s time to visit the doctor.

If you are having any trouble at all with getting your loved one up from the floor, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. This is made much easier with a medical alert pendant, which is right there with your loved one when they fall. Press the button to reach out to our trained professionals and explain that you need the assistance of emergency services. They will get them on their way immediately and stay on the line with you until they arrive. This can help keep both you and your loved one calm and allow you think about the next steps.

Keep in mind that calling emergency services for help doesn’t automatically mean a trip to the emergency department. The professionals who arrive at your door might be able to simply help your loved one get up and ensure they aren’t suffering from any serious injury. But if they do deem it necessary to go to the emergency room – for example, if your loved one seems confused or disoriented, even in the absence of clear injury – follow their advice.

Evaluating Your Loved One

In some cases, the reason for a fall is clear, such as tripping over a pet or a loose throw rug. It can be frustrating to know that your loved one fell down for a reason that could have been prevented. But in other cases, the cause is not clear. In fact, there might seem to be no cause at all. And that’s when you should take your parent to the doctor.

Sometimes falls happen because someone is in pain and finds it hard to walk. This might be the case with those who have arthritis. Some might be suffering from anemia or dehydration, which can make them feel very weak. Heart disease and some neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, can do this as well. Or they could have suffered a mini-stroke, or transient ischemic attack, that momentarily took away their sense of balance and their ability to use their limbs properly[4].

When you take your loved one to the doctor, go prepared with a list of their medications. These are often a culprit in falls, as many medications can cause weakness or issues with balance. Some medications might not cause those issues on their own, but certainly can when combined with other prescription drugs. The doctor needs to know everything your loved one is taking, even if it’s as simple as an over-the-counter multivitamin.

You should also go armed with information about what you’ve seen happening lately. Has your parent been holding onto furniture as they walk? They might be feeling unsteady. Have they been much more forgetful as of late? They might be suffering from dementia. Have they been sleepier than usual? They might be suffering from sleep apnea. The doctor will use these valuable insights to determine what might be wrong with your loved one that could lead to a higher risk of falls.

Fall Prevention Strategies

The doctor might call for a gait assessment from a physical therapist. This assessment will help determine the risk of falling and provide tips for how to avoid a tumble. There are also other things you can try for fall prevention, including the following:

·         Get serious about aging in place home modifications. These can be quite simple, such as removing loose carpeting or tucking away extension cords. You can also invest in some low-cost options for safety, including grab bars in the bathroom and better lighting throughout the home.

·         Place a storage bin or box near the place your loved one likes to sit most often. Put some essentials in there, such as the remote control to the television, their glasses, favorite reading material, snacks, and more. This can keep things handy and limit the number of times they need to rise from a seated position to get something.

·         Discuss further prevention measures, such as the use of a cane or walker.

·         Invest in the right shoes that can help keep their feet in good condition and pain-free. Talk to a podiatrist about what shoes are best for your loved one, keeping in mind that some conditions, such as gout, can make walking painful.

·         Get their vision checked. How long has it been since they had a good vision check and got their glasses updated? Being unable to see well can lead to falls.

Fall prevention is vitally important at any time, but it should receive renewed attention after your loved one falls down. According to American Family Physician, a history of falls leads to a six-fold increased risk of another fall. 

As a family caregiver or child of an elderly adult person, you simply can’t be there by your loved one’s side around the clock. There will be times when they are walking through the home alone. And there might be times when you have to step out to run an errand and they are left alone for a little while. Or perhaps you are there during the day, check on them periodically, and stay in your own home at night. All of these scenarios mean that if your loved one falls while you are away, they might not be able to get help immediately – unless, of course, they have medical alert technology right at their fingertips.

Someone who falls down and winds up lying on the floor for a long time can develop complications that make the fall even worse, and of course, it’s a rather traumatic experience that is best avoided. But if your loved one has the ability to press an emergency button alarm and get the help they need right away, they can avoid those complications and just deal with the consequences of the fall itself. To make things even easier, a medical alert system with fall detection uses tiny fall sensors in the device to sense a fall has occurred. The device can then call for help all by itself! This adds to the peace of mind for both you and your loved one that if a fall does occur, there is help literally one button push away. Alert systems for the elderly come in wristbands, watches, and pendants or necklaces, so there is something for every need, budget, and style.