Why Is a Quick Response So Important When the Elderly Fall?
Whilst it is possible to take steps to minimise the chances of such accidents, it is a sad fact that at least a third of over 65s fall once or more each year. As many as 50% of these falls result in some form of injury. This includes cuts, bruises, fractures, head trauma and even death. On top of the physical harm caused by falls, they can also result in a loss of confidence and have serious long term emotional and psychological consequences. For many a fall can end up being a life changing event and signal the beginning of a decline in quality of life. Falls are one of the main contributors to admittance to care homes, with up to 40% of admissions being at least partly due to falls at home.
One of the most underestimated consequences of a fall is the significant adverse effect it can have on the confidence of an elderly person. For someone that has lived independently their whole life a fall can be a very frightening experience, particularly if it results in even a minor injury, or an extended period of time unable to get themselves up off of the floor. This fear can result in an understandable reluctance to experience situations which could potentially result in further falls. This tends to manifest itself as a withdrawal from social and physical activities, with the elderly person becoming increasingly sedentary and housebound. Previously enjoyable activities such as gardening can become daunting due to the increased risk of falls in the garden and lack of help immediately available. A reduction in physical activity has a direct impact on health and fitness leading towards frailty and an increased chance of further falls. This is further compounded by the poorer diet that can result from an unwillingness to risk falls whilst shopping or cooking for an extended period of time. Spending the majority of the time restricted to the home can also have a significant impact on mental health, with isolation, loneliness and depression as possible outcomes.
The physical danger posed by falls cannot be ignored. Our reactions tend to slow as we age, with elderly people often failing to break their fall and consequently being unable to control how they impact the ground, floor or furniture. This can be especially dangerous in high risk areas such as the garden or bathroom. Fractures are a serious risk, with those to the wrist and hip being the most common. Recovery time from such breaks is higher amongst the elderly and often involves extended hospitalisation. Hip fractures are particularly dangerous, with one in twenty of those with such injuries dying in hospital and the mortality rate rising to up to a third after twelve months. Treatment often involves long hospital stays, which contribute to muscle wasting and a difficulty returning to pre-injury fitness levels. Those who recover often still suffer from long term consequences, with most struggling to climb stairs and many being unable to get out of bed unassisted. Overall, falls are the main cause of accidental death in older people.
After the fall itself, elderly people often find themselves unable to get up unassisted. An extended period of time on the floor can exacerbate any injuries caused by a fall and have other serious consequences. In the case of injury, response time is very important. With hip fractures it is recommended that surgical intervention is performed as soon as possible after the event. Timely medical care also reduces the chance for further complications such as chest infections and tends to reduce the length of hospital stays. Even when no injury is caused by the fall itself, the period of time on the floor can cause harm. Dehydration is a real risk, particularly if the elderly person exerts themselves struggling to get up. Such exertions can also lead to carpet burns and scrapes which could become infected. There is also the possibility of going into shock as a result of a fall which requires immediate medical attention and can even be life-threatening. Lying prone can also be problematic, as it may lead to pressure ulcers or sores. Long waits for help can also lead to hypothermia and pneumonia, which can be life threatening for the elderly. These physical dangers are matched by the psychological and emotional harm than can caused by being left helpless on the floor. A wait of hours can be a very traumatic experience, especially if in the elderly person is in pain or unsure of when help would be likely to arrive.
Whilst some falls are caused by unsteadiness or slow reactions, many can be the result of underlying medical conditions or serious events such as heart attacks or strokes. There are a number of such serious medical problems that can require immediate intervention or treatment. If the elderly person in question is unable to call for help or reach a telephone a treatable problem could become far more serious and potentially even fatal.
Ensuring that help is available as soon as possible is crucial to minimising the negative consequences of a fall in the home. Pendant Alarms and Fall Alarms are particularly effective at providing a means to get this help. Worn about the person, they can be activated by the elderly person in the event of an accident to call for help. This will contact an Emergency Response Centre where an operator will be able to speak to the wearer and reassure them that help is on the way. The trained responder will ascertain what assistance is required and then contact a relative, neighbour or emergency services depending on the circumstances. The reassurance of a friendly voice immediately after a fall can be as important as the help being dispatched. The elderly person has no need to panic or risk further injury struggling to get up and does not have to worry. Knowing that this protection is in place enable the wearer to live an independent life in their own home without the fear of being stranded after a fall. The ability to live this independent lifestyle is likely to lower the chances of suffering any falls at all as being good physical and mental health are the best protection against such accidents. To find out more about the safety net and peace of mind a pendant alarm can provide and tips for healthy living take a look at our Helpline blog.
Many wearers of pendant alarms report having the confidence to remain independent in their homes whilst acknowledging the risk of falls. The peace of mind afforded to the family result in reduced pressure from them to persuade elderly relatives to go into a care home.