This article was written by Julie Ely, the Caregiver Homes Branch Manager for Berkshire County in Mass.
Imagine this is you in a scenario that many families served by Caregiver Homes have faced in the past:
It’s Saturday afternoon, the chores are done, weekend shopping completed, you’ve just settled down to kick back for the rest of the weekend, and the phone rings. “Hi, it’s Mom. Your father just had a bad fall. I think he’s ok, but he’s sure going have a badly bruised face. I just wanted you to know.”
You worry, ask questions, and finally decide things are being handled well, and your father should be okay. Then, two weeks later, you get the second call that your father is confused, can’t stand up, and Mom is frantic. And yes, it’s because of the fall.
Situations involving an elder falling down at home, resulting in medical emergencies or conditions, can lead to a person needing full time or long term care. Such incidents are also a concern for those in the midst of receiving such care, as they may be predisposed to falling.
As a manager for a Caregiver Homes branch, I have heard numerous stories about elders having such incidents. But can falls like this be prevented? There’s a very good chance that, with precautionary measures in place, this scenario can be avoided.
Caregiver Homes initiated a Falls Prevention program in June, 2011. What we found was that consumers in our program already had a far lower rate of falls than the general elder population in long term care, but we felt we could improve in this area nonetheless. Following training provided to family caregivers by our care nurses, data collected over the following nine months revealed a 28% decrease in fall rate!
How did Caregiver Homes accomplish this? Nurses were trained in performing a Falls Quick Screen which encompasses the ease, or difficulty, with which a person stands from a sitting position, walks a set distance, and sits down again. Other pieces include the person’s age, diagnoses and history of previous falls.
The nurse, in turn, works both with the caregiver and consumer to ensure awareness of the consumer’s current and changing situation, makes suggestions for the home environment such as removal of scatter rugs, and provides coaching to the caregiver as needed. As the Falls Quick Screen is performed monthly along with checking any changes in medications and change in the consumer’s overall health, the caregiver is alerted to measures that help prevent a fall. Giving such reminders as: “Dad…stand up slowly and wait for a minute before you start walking” may seem obvious, but it’s usually the obvious measures that are forgotten.
Electronic notes entered daily by the caregiver also keep the nurse and care manager for the Caregiver Homes consumer well aware of the person’s changing needs.
Can all falls be prevented? No, but any decrease in fall rate will result in a much healthier, more comfortable life for the consumer and, presumably, less stress for caregivers and family.