The fall. We all have experienced the terrifying sensation of falling. That horrible lengthy-seeming pause when you know you can’t regain your balance and you’re about to go down. Now you’re down for the count - and what you do next matters.
First evaluate how badly it hurts and where. Try moving your arms and legs to determine if you can get up. The good news is, if you can get up and stand, you probably haven’t broken a hip, foot or leg. Check to see if you are bleeding. And of course, set your pride aside and call out for help if someone is within ear shot.
But what if you can’t get up? This is the scariest situation for someone alone. It’s critical to always have a way to summon help. Some subscribe to a remote wearable monitoring system, like LifeAlert. It’s a simple fool proof system. You press a button and someone will call you. If you don’t answer the phone, they will call for help.
Some folks keep small flip phones or cell phones handy by wearing them on a necklace, or always keeping them in a pocket or on a belt.
A newer, more sophisticated system is ALEXA. If you have an ALEXA, you can call out and ask it to summon help for you - assuming you are near the device, not outside or in the basement. And a very cool innovative safety setting allows you to ask ALEXA anything when you first get up in the morning, and if you have not addressed ALEXA by a certain time, your family is notified.
If you have fallen, and cannot get up or get help and can’t crawl or move, it may be hours before someone realizes you are in trouble. I have seen people who have been on the floor for over 24 hours, or lying outside helpless in the yard for extended periods. The pressure of the body on the floor causes muscle damage and kidney problems. If this happens, and you survive, it is a signal to everyone that you are no longer safe at home without getting devices like those mentioned above or moving to a safer setting.
Balance problems? If you fall frequently due to poor balance, or often feel dizzy, physical therapy will help. These experts can identify the problem and recommend exercises and can also teach you how to get up after a fall and even how to fall. You might need a walker or cane. Better a walker than a broken hip and a prolonged stay in a nursing home.
And after a fall, it is always important to figure out what happened. Did you trip over something, did you pass out, were you severely dizzy, did you turn and lose your balance, was your heart rate too slow or too fast, did you have a stroke or a heart attack? If it was a simple trip, we can try to make changes so it doesn’t happen again. Things like removing loose rugs, clutter and obstacles; lighting halls at night; installing night lights in the bathroom and bedroom may seem obvious, but might save your life, or your hip. If it is not clear why you fell, you probably should see your doctor and get checked for serious causes of falling.
Guest blogger, Georgia Newman, MD is a specialist in geriatrics. She is accepting new patients in Oberlin.