People place their parents in nursing homes with the hope that their twilight years will pass by peacefully and pleasantly. Anything from derangement or diminishment of the senses to dementia to medication side effects may intervene and create a fall risk. Nurses and resident aides spend every waking minute monitoring the elderly with the knowledge that a fall is almost inevitable. Yet, it is not the fall itself but the possible consequences of that fall that worry families and caregivers.
What injury comes to mind when one hears of an elderly person falling? The sequence of events is sadly familiar. An elderly person falls and fractures their hip. Sometimes they capture pneumonia after a hospital readmission that costs the nursing home thousands of dollars. Their odds of surviving much longer are never good. Those that do get back on their feet end up with a fear of falling. ‘Post-fall syndrome’ is a very real collection of symptoms ranging from depression, fear of falling, anxiety and other psychological problems.
We have all grown up with those ubiquitous commercials where the elderly lady, Mrs. Fletcher, utters the infamous line “I’ve fallen…and I can’t get up!” Those advertisements, which began running in 1987, were for LifeCall, a medical alarm and protection company. Not only was this an early form of telehealth technology, that arguably put telehealth on the map, but it paved the way for an entire industry based on medical monitoring, emergency response services and wireless platforms.
Fall prevention technology exists both in the home and in elder care facilities. Here are further examples of telehealth equipment and how they reduce or prevent fall risks:
1. Pull cord alarm – The pull cord alarm is most commonly associated with hospital beds or beds in an elder care facility. It is conveniently placed, as long as the senior is conscious and able to reach it. Pulling the cord triggers an alarm, along with a flashing light, alerting staff that the room’s occupant requires help. It may also cue a call center, hence the telehealth component.
2. Pendant alarm trigger – These days, Mrs. Fletcher’s catch phrase may be a dated punchline but LifeCall still exists, along with more recognized competitors like MedAlert. Both are examples of community alarm equipment, devices that can be worn around the neck or wrist, like pendants. Not only do they summon help with the pressing of buttons, but now they can operate as tiny cordless phones.
3. Fall detector – Now we are moving into more sophisticated territory, best monitored regularly by a caregiver. Fall detectors can be attached to clothing or a belt. They can be carried in a pouch or even worn around the wrist. The point is to have it at waist level and worn when the person is active, not at night when they are in bed. The device will automatically detect a fall and an emergency alarm will be activated if it is not returned to a vertical position after a short period of time. Newer models are actually able to detect the speed of a sudden change in position, as well as the angle of the fall. This helps differentiate between actual falls and other movement, such as the detector dropping. Modern devices can be customized according to the person’s size, shape and even any patterns to their falls.
4. Occupancy sensors – So many falls take place when a senior is getting up from a bed or chair. A range of sensors attached to said bed or chair alerts caregivers not only when the elder leaves the bed or chair but also whether or not he or she returns in a predetermined period of time. These same sensors can trigger lights or dim them so that the person can find their way to and from the bed or chair. Once again, an alert could be sent to someone on the premises or to a remote call center.
The needs of nursing homes are closely aligned with the services of the telehealth industry. One of the greatest needs of the nursing home industry is improved fall prevention. It can only be anticipated that nursing home administrators will be turning to telehealth more and more in years to come.