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Is Fall Prevention Technology the Answer?

In 2010 about 21,000 older adults died from falling injuries, and 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments. By 2030, more than 72 million Americans (nearly 1 in 5) will be 65 and older. As a result, researchers and health care experts are looking for ways to prevent falls and injuries; to keep elders safe, upright and standing on both feet.

This has sparked an outbreak of monitoring technology designed to help prevent elders from falling and/or injuring themselves at home. This booming market includes such devices as:
  • Personal emergency management (call pendants). If an elder falls or is in trouble (sudden dizziness and balance problems), they can push a button that notifies the caregiver. The device can also detect a fall and loss of consciousness and send for emergency help immediately.
  • Video/audio monitoring systems. Allow caregivers to view an elder and their activities remotely and respond quickly to problems. Makes it possible for a caregiver to assess an elder’s health or safety by having a conversation and make some general observations about their well being without having to travel to the individual for each visit.  Family members and health professionals may be able to communicate using this same device in the home. 
  • Sensors. Designed to detect unsafe movement or patterns of movement (such as frequent trips to the bathroom at night) in the home. This provides information to caregivers about the safety of the elder.
  • Fall alarms. Designed to detect unsafe movement form beds, chairs, wheelchairs, and toilet.
  • Medication devices. Designed to remind elders to take their medication and/or dispense proper drug/dose, and monitor adherence (not taking medications properly is a major cause of falls).  

Some of the concerns surrounding monitoring technology include:
  • Will elders be able (and willing) to use the technology; especially wearable alarms.
  • Optical devices (such as video cameras) can be intrusive and may invade an elder’s privacy (people worry that someone’s watching their every move).
  • Price (the cost of the device and monthly monitoring charges). Typically, insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid do not in all instances provide reimbursement for monitoring technology. 

Is ‘fall prevention technology’ the answer for you?

If your goals as a caregiver include increased independence and safety for your loved one, monitoring technology may be an option, but it may not be right for everyone. 

Caregivers should ask about and consider the following before using (or purchasing) monitoring technology:
  • The ability of the technology to adequately help, considering the elder’s health problems, physical limitations, and safety needs.
  • The ability of the technology to enhance the elder’s independence while decreasing their risk of falling.
  • The ability of the technology to allow the elder to remain at home or return to home after hospital discharge.
  • Whether it is better to have technology or a caregiver (or both) in the home to help manage an elder’s safety risk.
The risks and benefits of using technology are best answered by you (the caregiver), the elder and all health professionals caring for the elder’s specific needs. You should be informed of and understand:
  • What are the risk and benefits of monitoring technology?
  • What alternatives to monitoring technology may be more appropriate?
  • What type of monitoring technology is best for your situation?
  • What protections are there about data storage (or recordings); how will privacy be protected?
  • How quickly will people respond to situations that arise when an elder may need assistance?
  • What types of back up are available if the monitoring technology fails?
  • Will the technology be affordable?
Many family caregivers have an aging parent (or relative) who is at fall risk (or has suffered several falls) and wants to live on their own. Appropriately, caregivers are concerned about the elder’s failing health and safety.  Technology clearly has its place in letting caregivers know what’s happening with their loved ones on a daily basis (identifying dangerous, situations, etc.) and helping to reduce the risk of falling. But certain situations such as complicated medical and health needs or safety issues related to mental status may require having a caregiver 24/7. However, monitoring technology may be used as an additional support. 

Monitoring technology is appropriate if:
  • The technology will enhance the elder’s independence and safety and assist in providing quality care.
  • The selection of technology is driven by individual choice, comfort, and security.
  • The technology gives both the caregiver and elder peace of mind (or confidence) that safety issues will be identified and responded to. 
  • The elder, family caregiver and the elder’s health care providers are confident with the level of safety and support technology provides.
  • The benefits of technology outweigh the risks; cost, privacy, etc.
Monitoring technology as it relates to fall prevention is a new and exciting frontier. In America, we tend to believe that ‘technology’ is the answer to every problem, including falls. As a result, there may be an ‘over emphasis’ on technology (and an overzealous marketing campaign by technology companies to sell their product as ‘the fall prevention solution’) and less about how to actually reduce the risk of falling. It’s important to recognize that monitoring technology is:
  • Not a replacement for fall prevention efforts. Nor can technology address many of the disabilities associated with fall risk;  balance loss, weak muscle strength, poor eyesight, poor memory, etc..
Preventing falls is much less expensive and easier than treating  fall complications; such as hip fractures. If health and environmental conditions that contribute to fall risk can be prevented, then many of the disabilities associated with fall risk can be avoided (along with technology).

Guest blog by Dr. Rein Tideiksaar with this post originally appearing on eCarediary

Rein Tideiksaar, PhD, PA-C, or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to, is the president of Fall Prevent, LLC, Blackwood, New Jersey, a consulting company that provides educational, legal, and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist, which is a health care professional who specializes in working with elderly patients, and a geriatric physician's assistant. He has been active in the area of fall prevention for over thirty years. He has directed numerous research projects on falls and has developed fall prevention programs in the community, assisted living, home care, acute care, and nursing facility settings. He has as authored several books devoted to the topic of fall prevention.

Pedagogy Education offers several online continuing education courses for nurses, nurse aides, home care aides and assistants, and caregivers authored by Dr. Rein: Click on the course title to learn more and get started on your fall prevention education. If you would like to offer your entire team online continuing education on fall prevention, send us an email at sales@pedagogy-inc.com to receive our best pricing available.
Posted: 11/14/2014 7:28:03 AM
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