Last winter I slipped and fell in my driveway. It was early in the morning, so I did not notice that the driveway was covered in black ice. After I fell it was really challenging to get around, so I had to use crutches to maneuver for the next two weeks. I admit, the worst part of having limited mobility was trying to perform activities of daily living (i.e., bathing, dressing, and grooming) with only one functional leg. Falling was painful and trying to compensate because of my immobility was stressful.

For a loved one or client with limited mobility, recovering from a fall may require extended recovery periods including a possible hospital stay. And if the damage is extensive, there may be a need to seek out skilled nursing services. Not only is there greater mortality risks associated with a fall and subsequent skeletal injury but, sometimes an elderly or disabled client is not able to return home after a fall. The adjustment is often difficult, but great strides in health care have been made in terms of services that offer immediate help for those suffering from a serious fall-related injury.

Empowerment

The risks associated with just one significant fall can be devastating for both your loved one and you as a caregiver. Therefore, you must be empowered to recognize the signs of an unreported fall, understand where to go for resources to help with making the home safer, and seek the assistance of additional support in the home, when it is warranted, to prevent falls.

Caregiver Wellness: U Model

Empowerment is a key component of the Caregiver Wellness: U Model, a conceptual model that incorporates the movement toward social, psychological, physical, intellectual, spiritual, occupational, and financial wellness among caregivers, while also incorporating the empowerment and resilience necessary to take charge of one’s health on a holistic basis.

The term empowerment is defined as the ability to engage in and execute behaviors for successful caregiving. It is a significant force that may help you with the tasks associated with caring for your elderly or disabled loved one or client. In fact, once you are empowered, you are better able to assist your loved one live life with greater fulfillment, you are more likely to take responsibility for your own health and wellness in addition to the well-being of your loved one, and you are more likely to reach out for support to prevent a fall.

6 strategies that empowered caregivers can use to prevent falls

The following are six strategies that you may find helpful to prevent your loved one from falling:

Schedule a home evaluation. When a client of loved one is discharged from the hospital, you can ask the discharge planners, social workers, and therapists to do a home evaluation prior to release. During a home evaluation, a therapist verifies the safety of the home environment. He or she can also make suggestions for assistive equipment (tub chairs, handheld showers) and can advise against environmental risks. Another plus to having an evaluation is that the professional will know the red flags for which to look. Professionals are there to make suggestions; therefore, you are not bound by any agreement to make the changes the professional may recommend, so if your loved one becomes resistant to certain modifications, you still have the autonomy to make decisions regarding your loved one’s environment. It is always possible to create a plan with your loved one for gradual changes to his or her environment to decrease anxiety or resistance to the changes suggested. If you do not have access to a professional to conduct a home evaluation you might download and use Right at Home’s Fall Prevention Guide. This step-by-step guide walks you through tips to improve the safety in your loved one’s living environment.

Be Empowered! As a caregiver you play a key role in helping a loved one improve or retain functional mobility. You can encourage a loved one to fully utilize his or her assistive devices, and you can also help with setting goals to increase mobility. Additionally, you can serve as a liaison with doctors to determine appropriate activity levels and can act as a coach by encouraging a loved one to maintain his or her level of independence. Finally, you can watch for signs that your loved one has had a fall. For example, does your client or loved one have unexplained bruises, does he or she seem stiff, or reluctant to participate in normal daily activities If the answer is yes, you might consider sharing this information with your loved one or client’s doctor.

Make sure the environment is safe. Are doorways, hallways, and common areas clear of clutter? Your loved one or client should have a clear pathway to areas like the bathroom, bedroom, and common areas. If deemed necessary, grab bars should be secured in the bathroom. It is also important to make sure that telephone wires and extension cords are kept out of the path of your loved one or client.

Encourage your loved one to participate in normal activities. Immobility often occurs in conjunction with physical and medical conditions. Joint injuries, obesity, osteoarthritis, joint deformities, weakness, and restricted joint motion are also largely responsible for decreased mobility. Research has shown that many age-related declines in musculoskeletal function can be reduced by participation in some form of regular exercise. Additionally, maintenance of physical ability has proven to be achieved with relatively low volumes of exercise. Exercise may take the form of normal daily activities such as washing clothes or dishes or house cleaning. These regular activities, termed normalizing activities, have been found to help with maintaining functional abilities. The National Council on Aging offers a variety of resources, tips, and tools that you may find helpful to identify meaningful and appropriate activities for your loved one or client.

Participate in an emergency response program. If your loved one is living alone, you may have concerns about him or her falling and getting injured you might consider placing an emergency response system in the home. Emergency response systems can be a source of comfort for both you and your loved one. In fact, they offer the convenience of calling for help without having to make it to the phone in the event your loved one has a fall. Your loved one will wear a device like a necklace and wristband. The device contains a button that, once pushed, prompts a live response over the intercom that is part of the personal emergency response system. Many systems now have the range to allow you to hear your loved one throughout the home and even outside the home up to a certain number of feet.

Take care of yourself! To help family and professional caregivers manage their own health and well-being, Caregiver Support Services . This recorded webinar provides tips about how you can improve your physical wellness.

Falling can be devastating for you and your loved one or client. It is important that you are empowered to recognize the signs of an unsafe environment and take the steps to improve safety to prevent falls whenever possible.