Falls are a common occurrence for seniors, and, as many family caregivers know, they can be very frightening. Once the initial shock wears off, family members are often left wondering how to get an elder up off the floor and back on their feet.
Who to Call When an Elderly Person Falls
First and foremost, family caregivers need (or should request) help with handling senior falls. Unfortunately, deciding whose help you need isn’t always easy. The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors, the most important of which is whether the senior was injured in the fall. It is always safest to call 911 for emergency help.
Even if medical assistance isn’t required, first responders can provide the brawn to get a loved one off the floor safely and the expertise to confirm whether they need to go to the hospital for testing and/or treatment.
It is extremely common for a panicked caregiver to hurt themselves while trying to pick up a senior after a fall. This can have long-lasting consequences and prevent one from seeing to their caregiving duties for days, weeks or longer, depending on the severity of the injury. Taking matters into your own hands also puts your loved one at risk of being dropped or maneuvered incorrectly. If there is any doubt that you and your care recipient cannot handle the situation safely, call your local non-emergency police and fire number to request that EMTs or the fire department come out for what is called a “lift assist.”
Below are some general guidelines that can help you get a loved one upright, without hurting them (or yourself) in the process. Keep in mind that these strategies should only be used when you know your loved one hasn’t sustained an injury. Excess movement can cause further harm.
What to Do if an Elderly Person Falls Down
- Stay calm and help your loved one to remain calm by encouraging them to take slow, deep breaths.
- Examine them for injuries like bruises, bleeding, possible sprains and broken bones.
- Ask them if they are experiencing any pain, where it is located and how severe it is.
- If they have a serious injury (e.g., a broken bone, bleeding), then don’t move them. Call 911 and keep your loved one as warm, comfortable and still as possible until help arrives.
- If they aren’t badly hurt and they want to get up, proceed slowly. Stop at any point if they become stuck, experience pain or become too tired to get all the way up.
- Find two sturdy chairs. Place one next to the senior’s head and the other down by their feet. Keep in mind that your loved one must be capable of doing the physical work required to get up. Your role is to help guide them through these steps and keep them steady, not lift their weight. If they cannot do this, then call to request a lift assist.
- Help your loved one roll over onto their side and assist them in getting onto their hands and knees. If they suffer from sore knees, place a towel beneath them to make this step more comfortable.
- Move the chair closest to their head directly in front of where they are so they can rise up to place their hands evenly on the seat and assume a kneeling position.
- Ask the senior to lean forward on the seat as they bring their strongest leg forward, leading with the knee to place their foot flat on the floor. The senior should look like they are in a kneeling lunge at the end of this step.
- Move the second chair directly behind your loved one, then ask them to use both their arms and legs to push themselves up and sit back into this 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.
- Keep the senior seated until you’re confident they can stand and continue moving around without hurting themselves or falling again.
- Immediately notify their doctor that they’ve had a fall and keep an eye out for emerging pain and signs of injury.
How to Get Back Up After You Have Fallen
Much as we’d like to hope so, family caregivers aren’t immune to falling. Commit these steps to memory to ensure you’re prepared if you take a spill.
- Stay calm and take a few deep breaths.
- Examine yourself for injuries.
- If you find that you are injured or unable to get up, try to alert someone to your predicament. While you’re waiting for help, try to keep warm and stay calm.
- 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.)
- Slowly roll onto your side and then work to get onto your hands and knees.
- Crawl or drag yourself over to the piece of furniture.
- Get into a kneeling position and place your hands on a stable part of the piece of furniture (e.g., the seat of a chair).
- Choose your strongest leg and move that knee forward to place your foot flat on the floor. You should end up in a kneeling lunge with your hands still on the piece of furniture for support.
- Using your arms and legs simultaneously, push yourself up and pivot around until you’re sitting on the piece of furniture.
- Stay seated until you’re confident you can move around without hurting yourself or falling again.
- Once you are up, notify your doctor that you’ve had a fall and keep an eye out for emerging pain or signs of injury.
Falls Should Never Remain Secret
Even though one in every four adults aged 65 and older experiences a fall each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that fewer than half of these individuals tell their physician about it. Seniors often consider falls embarrassing indicators of their decline and impending reliance on others for assistance. It’s natural to want to downplay these incidents, but doing so may actually limit an older adult’s independence in the long run because it prevents them from receiving proper support and learning about fall prevention measures. In fact, research has shown that falling once doubles a senior’s chances of falling again. Repeated falls are indicative of an underlying problem that requires medical attention and should not be ignored. Frequent falls increase the risk of incurring a fall-related injury, such as a broken hip or a head injury, and often lead seniors to limit their everyday activities out of fear.
Awareness of this problem gives family members the opportunity to improve home safety measures and allows doctors to work with their patients to find solutions. This is crucial if falls are becoming more frequent. Small efforts like reducing clutter, installing grab bars, using a mobility aid, altering prescription medications, participating in physical and/or occupational therapy, and purchasing a medical alert system can make all the difference.
Regardless of whether it is you or your aging loved one who experiences a fall, it’s essential to notify a doctor about the event. He or she can make sure no injuries were sustained and suggest ways to prevent future tumbles.
Sources: CDC Injury Center: Important Facts About Falls (https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html); Incidence of and risk factors for falls and injurious falls among the community-dwelling elderly (https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a116681)