The impacts of COVID-19 on Fall Prevention
September 16, 2020
Once again, Falls Prevention Awareness week is here— a time where we focus on the best practices to limit catastrophic injuries in order to keep seniors independent. Even in the best of times, preventing falls is a challenging undertaking. To say the least, COVID-19 has made it significantly more difficult.
The conditions that make falls so costly and deadly have almost all been exacerbated by the pandemic. First, falls have increased because older adults are trying to do things themselves that previously would have been taken care of by friends, family, or caregivers. By preventing the spread of the virus through social isolation, we have unintentionally increased the likelihood of serious injury. What’s more, social isolation has also increased fall response time, turning 20 minutes on the floor into hours. Especially when bleeding occurs, a small increase in fall response time can be a matter of life or death. Fewer visits from family, friends, and caregivers combined with a lack of social engagement outside the home means that there are fewer natural opportunities for people to be found on the floor. And of course, “being found on the floor” is the way that many (if not most) falls are detected.
Exercise programs, like Tai Chi classes or SilverSneakers, can be great ways to improve strength and balance to decrease the risk of falls and make falls that do occur less dangerous. Unfortunately, senior centers, senior living communities, and fitness centers are all finding it difficult to engage seniors with these programs virtually. They are doing the best they can, but nothing will replace in-person classes with a professional trainer. In lieu of these programs, we must find ways to encourage people to be active on their own, as simply increasing walking and overall activity will improve leg strength and balance. Fitness trackers can be helpful, especially when families are engaged and helping to encourage activity.
Proper medication management and early detection of worrying symptoms are known strategies for preventing falls, but both have been hampered by the virus. Providers cannot reach as many patients due to the added travel time that in-home visits require. Programs that are now relying on telehealth have been telling us for months that it can be a challenge to get an iPad up and running, even when a tech savvy family member is able to assist with the setup. Even when telehealth is possible, it is difficult to assess medication management, vision loss, hearing loss, or other factors that impact fall risk.
Providers and families must take this crisis as a step toward remote patient monitoring, telehealth, and medication management technologies. To provide all three, it would cost between $500 – $1,500 per person per year; a true bargain compared with the massive costs of falls, medication noncompliance, and other preventable medical costs.
The good news: many falls are preventable if we adopt the right approaches, technologies, and mindset. COVID-19 has made fall prevention more challenging, but we can face that challenge if we coordinate among healthcare providers, solutions providers, caregivers, and families. Isn’t that what Fall Prevention Awareness Week should be about?
Written by Peter Chamberlain, WalkWise Founder and CEO.