In-Home Care Supports Senior Fall Prevention
Falls are a serious matter for older adults. Falls send more than 2 million seniors to the hospital every year, and sadly, many of them are subsequently unable to return to independent living. A serious fall resulting in a fractured hip, a dangerous laceration or a brain injury is often the trigger for a move to a nursing home.
Falls also are a huge concern for our nation’s healthcare system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the direct medical costs of senior falls have now topped $30 billion annually. Policymakers, medical researchers, geriatric experts and healthcare associations strongly endorse the benefits of fall protection for seniors—because as our senior population grows, the negative effect of falls also is expected to grow. There is an increased emphasis on fall prevention education targeting both professionals and consumers. High-tech fall prevention technologies are improving all the time and include everything from the common personal response systems, to fall-detecting wall and floor sensors, to "smart shoes" that can identify dangerous changes in a senior's gait.
Yet nothing can match the human touch when it comes to protecting seniors from falls. In-home caregivers too have taken note of the sobering falls statistics and are focusing on ways to lower the risk of falls for senior clients. More seniors are choosing to remain in their own homes even as they face healthcare challenges, taking advantage of the many support services offered by professional in-home care. Today, virtually every service offered by in-home care includes a component of fall prevention:
Supporting safe independent living. Not all falls can be prevented. But we can reduce the risk of falling. In-home care can be a valuable ingredient of a family’s senior fall prevention strategy. For example, studies during the past year showed that transferring from bed, chair or wheelchair is a particularly vulnerable moment for seniors with mobility challenges; in-home caregivers provide support and supervision during these transitions. In-home caregivers also help senior clients with bathing, grooming and other personal care tasks, allowing them to be as active and confident as possible. Seniors and their families both experience greater peace of mind knowing that help is at hand—to prevent falls, or in the unfortunate event of a fall, to provide prompt assistance.
Supporting physical activity. When seniors experience a fall, or fear falling because they feel unsteady on their feet, they may be tempted to take to their rocking chairs and avoid moving around. But when it comes to fall prevention, this is the worst thing to do! Inactivity leads to depression and a loss of muscle tone and balance, increasing the likelihood that a senior will fall again. Indeed, during 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force listed exercise as one of the top elements of fall prevention for seniors, no matter what their health condition. Caregivers transport clients to exercise classes, tai chi or other balance programs, and other activities as prescribed by the person’s healthcare provider. The presence of a caregiver in the home also provides an extra measure of confidence for home exercises and other prescribed activities.
Supporting home safety. This year the CDC again confirmed that more seniors fall at home than in any other setting. Seniors and families can "fall-proof" the home with safety and accessibility improvements such as better lighting, grab bars and low-pile carpeting. But keeping the home free from hazards is an ongoing process. In-home caregivers provide housekeeping services in the home. A professionally trained in-home caregiver knows to routinely correct conditions that could cause a fall: a loose carpet, an icy walkway, a burned-out light in the hall, spilled water in the bathroom … little problems that could cause a big problem.
Supporting health management. Many health conditions that are common in older adults raise the risk of falling. It is very important to manage these conditions by following the healthcare provider's instructions. If a senior is living with osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, visual impairment, hearing loss or one of the many other chronic conditions that raise the risk of falls, in-home care can help. Caregivers transport clients to the doctor's office and to other healthcare appointments. They plan and prepare meals and snacks that meet clients' nutritional needs, and provide support for any other recommended activities.
Supporting medication safety. Prescription and nonprescription drugs help seniors manage their health conditions, including those that increase the risk of falls. Yet the side effects of many common drugs can actually increase the risk of falling! In-home caregivers take clients to the pharmacy or pick up prescriptions, remind clients to take their medications at the right time and in the right way, and report signs of dangerous side effects.
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