Preventing Falls in the Hospital and at Home
Falls are a threat to your health
Falling can have bad effects on your health. Injury from a fall can lead to losing your independence. A fall can be very serious, especially if you have just had surgery or you have an illness. This page tells you how to reduce your risk for falls and what to do if you fall.
In the hospital
When you’re in the hospital, it’s important to do what the health care staff tell you to do. This is for your safety. For example, to reduce your risk of falling, you may be asked to call for help to get out of bed or a chair. You should use your call light and wait for help to arrive. You may be asked not to get out of bed or walk by yourself until the staff make sure you can do so safely.
You also should take a good look around your hospital room. Become aware of your surroundings. Awareness reduces your chance of falling. Certain factors increase your risk of falling in the hospital. Below is a list of risk factors and ways to reduce your risk.
The side effects of medicine may increase your risk of falling. Talk to your nurse or doctor about the possible side effects of any medicines you take.
Some medicines may affect your mental or physical state. For example, pain medicines and sleeping pills can make you drowsy and weak. Be very careful when you walk after taking these medicines. Sit on the side of the bed for a minute before you get up to walk.
Call for help if you feel weak or dizzy, especially if your nurse or doctor has told you to do so.
Other medicines may affect your body functions. For example, diuretics (DIE-yer-ET-iks) cause you to pass water more often. Bowel preps make it necessary for you to get to the bathroom immediately. If your doctor has told you to call for help to get out of bed, you must do so even when you’re in a hurry. There may be furniture in your path that you could stumble over.
If you have an intravenous (IV) line, a catheter, or oxygen, the equipment must go with you. It may be hard to manage by yourself, and you could lose your balance. Call for help before you get up. You may want to ask for a bedside toilet or keep a bedpan next to you for an emergency.
Blood pressure medicines may make you dizzy when you go from a lying to a sitting position. Sit on the edge of the bed until the dizziness passes.
When you wear stockings or socks without shoes, you have a greater risk of falling. Wear shoes or slippers when you are getting out of bed. Ask the staff for a pair of slippers, or bring slippers from home.
Walking in the dark is dangerous. You can trip over objects that you can’t see. Turn on the light before you get out of bed.
If you don’t see well, your risk of falling is greater. Blurred vision is a side effect of some medicines. Cataracts and other eye diseases can limit your vision. Be sure to wear your glasses or contact lenses. If you have trouble seeing, talk to your doctor or nurse.
Drops and spills
If you spill water or any beverage, do not try to clean it up yourself. You may miss a spot. If you drop an item on the floor, do not try to pick it up. Bending over can make you dizzy, and you could fall. Do not lean out of bed to try to pick up something from the floor. Call for help if you drop or spill something.
Some diseases affect your physical strength and balance. For example, Parkinson’s is a disease of the nerves and muscles that can affect the way a person walks. If you have dizziness or weakness in your legs or feet, call for help to get out of bed. Other diseases affect your mental state. If you feel you’re not thinking clearly, call your nurse or nurse aide for help.
When you’re in a new place, you may be confused if you wake up during the night from a sound sleep. You may not remember at first where you are or how the room is arranged. Patients who try to walk in the dark often fall. Do not get out of bed at night by yourself. Call the nurse for help.
Asking for help
Some hospital patients fall because they do not call for help. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re unsteady on your feet or not feeling well enough to walk alone, please call the staff for help. If it’s hard for you to find or press the call light, tell the staff. They can provide you with a special call device.
Canes, walkers, and crutches are called “assistive devices.” These devices provide extra stability for walking and can help you avoid falls. If you have a cane, a walker, or crutches, use them even when you’re in your hospital room. If you need help with your device, talk to your nurse or physical therapist.
When you go home
About 75 percent of all falls occur at home. Tripping and health problems cause most of these falls. This section tells you how to reduce your risk of falling at home and what to do if you fall.
Tips to prevent tripping
To prevent tripping, take these steps:
- Lighting - have bright lighting in your home. Bright light helps you to avoid tripping over objects that are hard to see. Be sure the stairs are well lit. Put night lights in the bedroom, hallways, and bathroom.
- Rugs and cords - fasten rugs firmly to the floor, or use rugs with non-skid backing. Tack down all loose ends on rugs. Move electrical cords from areas of the floor where you walk.
- Grab bars - install grab bars in the bathroom. Put them in the bath and shower and next to the toilet. Do not hold onto towel bars or soap dishes when you move in the bathroom. These items may not be strong enough to support you.
- Hand rails- avoid using stairs without hand rails. Install sturdy hand rails on all stairs.
- Kitchen items- place kitchen items within easy reach. Do not store things too high or too low.When things are easy to reach, you will not need to use a step ladder or a stool. You also can avoid reaching and bending over.
- Footwear - wear shoes and slippers that fit well and have firm, non-skid soles. Do not wear loose-fitting shoes or slippers.
Take good care of yourself
When you stay healthy, you reduce your chance of falling. Follow these guidelines:
- Foot problems- see your doctor if you have pain or loss of feeling in your feet. You also should see your doctor if you have large, thick toenails and corns. When you have pain or discomfort in your feet, you make small changes in the way you walk. These changes can lead you to stumble and fall.
- Medicines- talk to your doctor about possible side effects of all the medicines you take. The side effects of medicine are a common cause of falls. The more medicines you take, the more side effects you may have.
- Dizziness - if you have dizzy spells, see your doctor. Dizziness can make you lose your balance and fall. When you get up from lying down, sit for a few minutes. Then stand and get your bearings before you walk. Your blood pressure takes some time to adjust when you get up. If you stand up quickly, your blood pressure may be too low. You could then get dizzy, lose your balance, and fall.
- Canes and walkers - if your doctor suggests that you use a cane or a walker, use it. This will give you extra stability when you walk.
- Vision - see your eye doctor once a year. Cataracts and other eye diseases can limit your vision. You have more risk of falling when you don’t see well.
What to do if you fall
If you fall at home, remember:
- Step 1. Stay quiet for a moment — don’t panic
- Step 2. Decide whether or not to try to get up.
If you decide to try to get up:
- Step 1. Use strong, stable furniture for support as you try to get up.
- Step 2. Take some time to recover from your fall after you get up.
- Step 3. Tell someone that you had a fall.
- Step 4. Get medical advice if necessary.
If you cannot get up, or if you decide not to try:
- Step 1: Slide or crawl to get help if you can. You might be able to reach one of the following:
- Door to the outside
- Personal alarm device
- Something to make a loud noise
- Step 2: Tell someone you have fallen and need help.
- Step 3: After calling for help, lie quietly until help arrives. Keep as warm and comfortable as you can.
- Step 4: Get medical advice if necessary.
If you have questions
If you have any questions about this information, please talk with your nurse, therapist, or doctor.