Falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 2.5 million elderly Americans are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries every year. The CDC also reports that falls were the number one cause of hip fractures in 2014. Falls accounted for $30 billion in medical costs in 2014 and that number is expected to increase to an estimated $60 billion by 2020.
Cognitive impairment increases the risk of falling in older adults. The lack of self-awareness, the effects of medications, poor vision, and impaired memory/behavior are additional risk factors for falls in this demographic. Research has found that improving balance and vision and reducing hazards in the home are effective ways to prevent falls among older adults. However, reducing falls in older adults with cognitive and/or behavioral challenges may require additional preventative measures by those who care for them.
The goal of the fall prevention awareness program is to educate patients and staff about fall risk factors and evidenced-based fall prevention measures originating from programs such as the CDC and the National Council on Aging (NCOA). In addition, informal education of patients’ families will increase their involvement as well as reduce the risk of a fall. Caregiver and family involvement are crucial.
The fall prevention awareness program uses a multidisciplinary approach, involving mental health specialists (MHSs), nurses, physical therapists, and other team members. The physical therapist, a critical member of the team, may work collaboratively with MHSs, nurses, and other members to provide education and training on important strategies to reduce falls in this vulnerable population. Posters displayed in different areas on the unit will serve as useful reminders of fall reduction strategies for staff and patients. Staff members said they are eager to see this continuation of the fall prevention education offered at the fall fair, which included a helpful demonstration of the proper use of walkers and other devices. They and family members also learned how to better ambulate frail patients after attending the class with the physical therapist.
As fall prevention awareness has increased on the units, staff members are more actively checking on patients to minimize their risk of falling and ensuring they have basic safety features items including glasses, hearing aids, well-fitting shoes or anti-slip socks, walkers or canes, and call lights. It has also been noted that staff has been attending more promptly to patients’ bathroom needs, a key issue in fall events in elderly adults.
With ongoing staff and patient education, combined with family involvement, McLean should be able to decrease the injuries associated with this very preventable danger to this vulnerable population.