One of the most dangerous things you need to consider when looking after care home residents is the constant threat of falls. Falls might not seem like a huge danger to younger people, but in older individuals with limited skin elasticity and brittle bones, the slightest fall could cause a lot of damage.
After a resident has fallen, carers will need to check for any injuries and provide first aid if needed. However, if injuries are more severe, or falls are happening on a regular basis, it’s time to raise your concerns with a doctor.
Although it's common to have some trips and falls within a care home facility, particularly amongst residents who are not steady on their feet, they can become more of a serious concern, particularly if they happen on a regular basis.
For example, a fall may be a sign of an underlying medical problem. Older people can become weakened by a wide range of medical conditions, including dehydration, viruses and infections. If someone is falling regularly, they may need to undergo urine tests or blood tests to check if there are further medical issues which need to be addressed.
Older adults who have fallen once before are also generally more at risk of falls in the future, and the more falls an individual has, the more likely they are to experience serious outcomes such as broken bones. In some cases, it could be the case that medications which residents are taking are causing them to feel dizzy or tired, resulting in a higher risk of falls.
Many doctors can fail to give the right assessments without prompting from a professional caregiver or relative, so it’s important for care staff to be proactive in raising any concerns.
If a resident is regularly having falls, you may need to seek medical advice on issues including:
If an elderly individual has had a fall and is also experiencing symptoms such as weakness, delirium, or other signs that they may be unwell, it’s important that you raise this with a doctor. There are many health problems which could cause an elderly person to feel weak and bring on a fall, including:
It's generally a good idea to have an older person's blood tested if they’ve been having falls regularly. Falls can sometimes be worsened by problems such as a person's blood count - or other conditions such as the presence of high or low blood sodium. In most cases, a complete blood cell count and check of kidney function may be a good place to start.
If problems are found within the blood, then the doctor should be able to explain the abnormalities in full, how they are related to the falls, and how they can be addressed. For instance, weakness caused by diabetes may need to be checked more frequently with regular blood sugar tests. On the other hand, weakness and falls which are caused by anaemia or lack of iron may require changes in diet or the addition of supplements to regular medication routines.
If a resident is falling regularly, you may also need to consider having their gait or balance checked. This could simply mean asking a doctor to evaluate the way in which they walk.
If the doctor identifies a problem, care home staff can assist residents in a number of ways, including:
In some cases, elderly residents may fall because they have developed a problem with their heart or blood pressure. This could include conditions such as paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, which causes the heart to beat irregularly and is more common amongst older people.
In other circumstances, residents might be experiencing neurological conditions that affect their movement and balance - such as Parkinson's disease. If you are concerned about these possibilities, then you may need to refer the resident to a doctor for further assessment.
Regular falls could be a sign of problems with nutrition. Elderly people often lose their appetite, and if an individual isn’t eating enough then it could be causing them to feel faint or dizzy. Anaemia can also be caused by low levels of iron in the diet, and residents with diabetes needs to be especially careful with what they eat.
Vitamin D is particularly important when it comes to protecting elderly people from falls. Studies have shown that treating vitamin D deficiency can reduce the chance of falls in older adults, and low vitamin D levels have also been connected to fragile bones. Care staff should especially watch out for the signs of vitamin D deficiency in care home residents who prefer to spend most of their time indoors because of a lack of mobility or other problems.
Good nutrition is something every care facility can do to help support residents and keep them healthy, but if you think a resident is suffering from anaemia, diabetes, vitamin D deficiency or other problems with their nutrition, it’s best to raise these concerns with a doctor.