This week, The New York Times examined a new study published in the medical journal JAMA, which found that “for people over 75, the rate of mortality from falls more than doubled from 2000 to 2016.” While the overall picture shows that this is likely due to people living longer with conditions that would have been fatal in the past, the trend is concerning. However, the good news is that falls are not inevitable, and there are ways to prevent or reduce the recurrence. Although The New York Times highlighted the following list of steps that the general public can easily take to reduce the risk of falling, only a few of these suggestions can be applied for residents living with dementia living in memory care communities:
- Exercise: At least 20 minutes a day of strength and balance training can greatly reduce your risk of falling.
- Mind your meds: Medications, especially sleep aides, can be particularly dangerous for older people since they can build up in your system and cause dizziness. Melatonin is recommended as a natural, milder alternative.
- Re-accessorize: Footwear is critical when assessing fall risk. Slip-on shoes without backs, slippers and heels increase the chance of falling. Even though it may be difficult to accept that a cane or walker has been recommended, using it will increase your ability to be independent for longer.
- Assess Tripping Hazards: Pets, small rugs, extension cords and uneven floors can easily cause falls. Keeping a light on at night can help prevent tripping on thresholds between rooms or sleeping pets.
- Early and Often to the Bathroom: Good hydration helps prevent dizziness, so definitely drink plenty of water, but don’t wait until you’re desperate to go to the bathroom. Rushing can cause a fall!
Those living with dementia have a different set of risks that could result in falls, and I believe The New York Times’ list is a compilation of standard practices but are not enough for memory care. The most effective way to prevent or reduce recurrence of falls in memory care is person-centered fall management. Memory care providers need to go beyond the standard practices and really focus on the individual needs of their residents to be most successful. Here are a few proactive measures that memory care communities take to reduce falls and prevent an unnecessary trip to the emergency room:
- Environment: Design the environment specific to the individual for comfort, while placing most commonly used items within reach of the bed or accessible above the knees.
- Mobile Aids: Place proper aids within reach of the bed allowing the resident to move independently or if unable to ambulate, place safety precautions to avoid injury if/when the resident self-lowers to the ground to move out of the bed.
- Bed Positioning: When performing nightly well checks on the residents, make sure care staff check the position of the resident on the bed to avoid rolling or slipping out of bed.
People living with dementia can present special challenges for caregivers both in the home and in memory care units, so finding ways to prevent falls is critical to keep loved ones safe and give their families peace of mind.