on the floor

The most effective way for seniors and/or their caregivers to address the issue of falling is to:

•    First, visit the doctor and find out why a loved one is at risk or why falls are occurring.  Remember, falls are not normal but may represent an underlying health condition that requires investigation.

•    Second, after determining the risk factors and the possible causes of falling, seniors and their caregivers can address those risks by taking proper action, treatment and safety precautions to avoid falls.

With today’s technologies, caregivers often ask about available products that can assist in helping to monitor the risk of falling and safety precautions in the event of a fall. The following is a summary of the most utilized products.

Do I Need to Use Fall Detection Technology? 

While most seniors ‘at risk of falling’ are able to live independent lives at home without technology, there are some individuals that may need additional help. If an senior has any of the following problems, fall detection technology may be an option in order to provide a safe environment for that individual at risk:

•    Is there a history of several falls?
•    Is the senior unable to get up from the floor by themselves following a fall?
•    Does the individual live alone or left alone for extended periods?
•    Are there sensory concerns such as: severe balance and vision impairment?
•    Are there cognitive concerns like: dementia and Alzheimer’s?
•    Do medication concerns as a result of taking multiple drugs affect a person’s motor skills and balance?

Fall Alarms

Fall alarms are designed to warn caregivers that seniors who should not be attempting to leave their bed (or chair) without help are doing so. If the senior falls out of a bed, he or she may not be able to call for help, and if the caregiver is in another room, it could be sometime before the situation is detected. In essence, fall alarms give caregivers ‘advanced warning’ there is a risk of a fall.

The fall alarm consists of a mat (that is placed in the bed under the sheets or under the mattress) and an alarm monitor that alerts the caregiver immediately when the person is getting up. When the senior is about to leave their bed (taking pressure off of the mat), the alarm (located in the caregiver’s bedroom, for example) is activated. Alarms that detect when seniors are leaving a chair or wheelchair, work in similar fashion.

Pressure-sensing floor mats are another effective monitoring solution. These floor mats are thin with nonslip grip and can be used in different locations (by the bed/chair or near a doorway). When a senior steps on the floor mat (pressure is applied) a signal is sent to the fall detection alarm monitor, which alerts the caregiver. Cordless or wireless fall detection alarm monitors are available, which eliminates the need for cords between the mat and alarm monitor; an obvious tripping hazard.

Who should use it:

Senior who have fallen or are at fall risk (due to loss of balance, dizziness, muscle weakness, etc.) after leaving their bed or chair and require caregiver assistance. Bed alarms are especially useful to detect ‘unsafe toileting’ and the need for assistance at night.

Medical Alert, Fall Detection Systems and Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS)

In addition to the immediate dangers of falling, such as a broken bone, there’s the threat of the senior falling and remaining on the ground without help. An inability to get up without assistance (and lying on the floor for a long time) is associated with a decline in mobility, fear of falling and need for nursing home placement.

PERS, also known as medical alert devices, enable a senior to contact and request assistance in the event of a fall. Traditional medical alerts have three components: (1) a small radio transmitter, worn as a pendant from the neck or worn on the wrist or belt, (2) a console connected to your telephone, and (3) an emergency response center that monitors calls.

When help is needed, the senior presses the transmitter’s help button, which sends a signal to the console. The console automatically dials one or more emergency telephone numbers. Most medical alerts are programmed to telephone an emergency response center, which will call a caregiver, friend or ambulance, if needed.

The disadvantage of traditional medical alerts is: (1) the device is restricted to the seniors home telephone and as such the range of signal from the pendent to the console varies by device (2) verbal voice to voice communication with the response center is limited to seniors audible distance from the console which may be as little as 20 to 30 feet., (3) seniors that fall don’t push the button, either because they are too dazed or embarrassed, they forget, or they are physically unable.

To increase the communication range of traditional medical alerts, companies have developed medical alerts that incorporate a speaker and microphone in the pendant which greatly extends the range of voice to voice communication with the response center. In addition some medical alert companies offer pendants that incorporate sensors that can determine a fall without the senior’s pressing of the emergency button. The sophistication and accuracy of these ‘automatic fall alert’’ features varies greatly by manufacture. The use of cellular technology also has increased greatly over the last ten years. Mobile based medical alerts extend the medical alert range to where ever cellular coverage is available, dramatically improving the safety of the senior in the event they travel outside the home.  Seniors with a history of seizures, dizziness, black outs, or other health conditions interfering with the ability to press buttons for help may require a medical alert with automatic fall alert.

Who should use it:

Medical alerts are designed to help seniors who live alone, are without a caregiver being available for an extended period of time, as well as individuals suffering from physical limitations that interfere with the ability to get up from the floor by themselves, such as those with stroke, Parkinsonism, severe arthritis.

For frail seniors with multiple chronic health conditions, fall alarms or a medical alert may not be enough, as some may need constant monitoring. In response, there are home monitoring systems that work around the clock and require no input from the senior being cared for. Home monitoring systems use a variety of non-invasive sensors placed around the senior’s home that continuously monitor movement and activities of daily living. The system sensors:

•    Collects and analyses information on the senior’s daily activities such as: using the bathroom, getting out of bed and taking medicine. This establishes the senior’s normal routine so that it can quickly detect when there are changes to those routines.

•    When something out the ordinary happens (such as a fall or a change in mobility suggesting potential fall risk) alerts are automatically sent to the caregiver and others via phone or e-mail.

Who should use it:

Seniors with multiple chronic health conditions and functional limits (balance, walking and transferring) who live alone and are at fall risk.

In conclusion, fall technology can play an important role in helping to avoid falls/injury. A wise senior/caregiver should consider fall monitoring technologies if and when the need is there.