The answer to this complex question depends on a variety of situational factors—the most important factor is whether or not the person was injured by their tumble. When in doubt, it's always safest to call 9-1-1 for help. Longtime caregiver and AgingCare Expert, Carol Bradley Bursack also suggests seeking out caregiver training courses, which typically cover topics such as how to safely assist a fallen loved one.
There are some general guidelines that can help you get a loved one upright—without hurting them or yourself in the process. Keep in mind, these strategies should only be used when you know your loved one hasn't been injured.
Tips for picking up someone that has fallen
- Stay calm and help your loved one to remain calm by encouraging them to take slow, deep breaths.
- Examine them for injuries—bruises, possible sprain, broken bones.
- If they have a serious injury (e.g. a broken bone), then don't move them. Call 9-1-1, and keep your loved one as warm and comfortable as possible until help arrives.
- If they aren't badly hurt and they want to get up, proceed slowly and stop at any point if they become stuck or too tired to get all the way up.
- Find two sturdy chairs. Place one next to your loved one's head and the other down by their feet.(Keep in mind, your loved one needs to be the one doing the physical work of getting up. You're just there to help guide them and keep them steady, not lift their weight.)
- Help your loved one roll over onto their side, assist them into a kneeling position. If they suffer from sore knees, a towel placed underneath the knees can make them more comfortable.
- Move the chair closest to their head directly in front of where they are kneeling so that they can place their hands on the seat, evenly.
- Ask your loved one to lean on the seat as they bring one leg forward and place that foot on the floor.
- Move the second chair directly behind your loved one, then ask them to use their arms and legs to push themselves up, then sit back into the second chair. You can use your hands to keep your loved one steady, but keep your back upright and make sure they are doing the physical work to lift themselves.
- Notify their doctor that they've had a fall.
How to get back up after you have fallen
- Stay calm.
- Examine yourself for injuries—bruises, possible sprains, broken bones.
- If you are confident you haven't broken any bones or experienced a serious injury, search for the nearest piece of sturdy furniture. (A chair would be ideal.)
- Roll onto your hands and knees, then crawl or drag yourself over to the piece of furniture.
- Get into a kneeling position and place your arms on a stable area of the piece of furniture (e.g. the seat of the chair).
- Bring one knee forward and place your foot on the floor.
- Using your arms and leg simultaneously, push yourself up and pivot your bottom around until you're sitting on the piece of furniture.
- Stay sitting until you're confident you can move around without hurting yourself or falling again.
- If you find that you are unable to get up after falling, stay calm and try to alert someone to your predicament. While you're waiting for help, endeavor to keep warm and move around slowly to avoid placing too much sustained pressure on any one area of your body.
- Notify your doctor that you've had a fall.
Why falls should never remain secret
Even though one-third of adults age 65 and older experience a fall each year, fewer than half of these individuals tell their physician about it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls are often seen as embarrassing indicators of an adult's decline and their impending dependency on others for assistance, so it's natural to want to keep such incidences a secret.
Regardless of whether it was you (the caregiver) who experienced the fall or your loved one, it's essential to notify a doctor about the event. He or she can make sure you or your loved one didn't sustain any invisible injuries as a result of the fall, and suggest ways to prevent unnecessary tumbles.
You should also tell at least one friend or family member about the fall, so that they can be on the lookout in case you or your loved one need help in the future. If falls are becoming more frequent, you might also want to consider investing in an emergency alert device or an automatic fall detection system.