Eight Questions To Ask Your Doctor After A Fall

Taking care of a senior citizen has its challenges as well as its rewards. As the population ages and the older generation is living well into their eighties and nineties, more and more attention is given to caring for senior citizens. A few years ago, 50 was the new 40. Today, 80 is the new 70 and there are more services than ever to assist this challenging lifestyle. Today's seniors are more independent than in past years and more than ever before are opting to continue living at home instead of going to a nursing home. The trend has become "care coming to you" instead of "you going to the care".

The introduction of devices like LifeAlert as well as many others was the beginning of an entire era of services designed so our aging generation could stay independent and stay in their homes. But accidents do happen and when they do caregivers and loved ones need to take action to make sure the senior is safe and healthy. Accidents like falls are common as older people lose their strength, balance, and cognition. One fall can signify many red flags that caregivers should be aware of. Experts report that one fall usually leads to future falls. As a matter of fact if a senior citizen falls once, the chances of a second fall doubles. It is imperative to be proactive after a fall to prevent future ones.

Here are eight things to ask a medical professional after an older adult experiences a fall:

  1. What contributed to the fall? Encourage the medical professional to ask what happened before the fall. Since they are most concerned with the bumps, bruises and even breaks that happened because of the fall, they may overlook things like new medication side effects, balance issues, deteriorating sight, etc.
  2. Have there been any illnesses or changes in medications? You might be surprised that some unrelated medical conditions might have caused the fall. Undetected dehydration, anemia, urinary tract infections, upper respiratory  problems, mini strokes and even early stages of dementia should be on the doctor's radar.
  3. Has The Caregiver Noticed Different Behavior? It's very important for the loved one or caregiver to report any differences in the senior citizen's behavior. These changes could bring on weakness and be the reason for the fall. Any difference in behavior such as eating, sleeping and daily routines are red flags of another potential problem.
  4. Has Blood Pressure Been Taken? According to a 2009 Medicare study of emergency room patients who came in after a fainting incident reported that taking blood pressure readings was the most useful test and that only one third of medical practitioners actually ordered them. Blood pressure readings both standing and sitting are important and especially important if the patient is taking any blood thinners, blood pressure medications or has a history of heart issues.
  5. Did They Run A Blood Test? Getting blood work after a fall is imperative because a fall can cause problems with blood count, sodium levels, blood sugar levels, electrolyte counts and other potential issues. When discussing the results with the doctor, ask them to explain any possible problems whether related to the fall or not. Then ask what lifestyle changes or medications are need to resolve them. Keep in mind that if your senior citizen has diabetes and takes medication to regulate their blood sugar, general blood tests usually don't show low blood sugar so a glucometer may be necessary.
  6. Did They Perform a Gait Or Walking Assessment? Balance problems increase with age. Muscle strength weakens and balance may be affected. Ask the patient if they have been experiencing balance issues or if they have any joint pain in the legs, knees, feet or hips. They may be overcompensating for the pain, thus effecting their balance. If so, the doctor or a physical therapist can assess their "gait" or the way the walk. A physical therapist can recommend patient appropriate strengthening and balance exercises. A doctor may prescribe pain medication, heat/cold therapies or topical creams to alleviate pain.
  7. Did They Run A Vitamin D Level Test? There are multiple studies that link low vitamin D levels to falls in older adults. Vitamin D is essential to strong bones, healthy joints and even brain health. If a senior citizen doesn't get much sunlight and doesn't take a Vitamin D supplement chances are they are Vitamin D deficient. Ask your doctor to check the Vitamin D levels and if they are low, he may prescribe high does for awhile and then reduce the amount later. Ask the doctor to work with a nutritionist so the senior's diet can be adjusted to add foods high in Vitamin D.
  8. Did They Perform a Vision Test? If a senior recently fell or is notably running into things and sitting closer to the television or newspaper, their vision may need to be checked. Cataracts that develop in older adults could be the culprit and should be removed or a simple pair of stronger lenses may help. A visit to the eye doctor should be scheduled to prevent any other accidents if they are vision related. Sometimes different medications effect vision, so provide the doctor with a list of all medications and doses, too.

Senior citizen falls can be related to so much more than a clumsy accident. They may be the sign something else is happening to your loved one so it's well worth your time and theirs to ask the doctor or health professional for any information you can that may prevent future falls or future health issues. Getting answers is the key to keeping them happy, healthy and safe.

Contributing Authors

Kelli Wilson, RN

Kelli is a Registered Nurse with over 19 years of experience in long term care nursing homes. Though the years she’s worked up to Assistant Director, and Director of Nursing. Kelli has been involved in admissions, discharges, and arranging home care. She’s also familiar with Medicare/Medicaid requirements and how to preform pre-authorizations.
Kelli Wilson, RN

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James Conte, RN, BS Nursing, BS Pharmacology

James is a Registered Nurse with a BS in Nursing, a BS in Pharmacology, and a BS in Electrical Engineering. He brings with him many years of experience working in Long Term Care facilities, and as a Registered Nurse in an Intensive Care Unit. His familiarity with nursing and emergency care provides an invaluable perspective on managed care.
James Conte, RN, BS Nursing, BS Pharmacology

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    Miranda Booher, RN, ACLS Certified, BLS Certified, Tx Certified

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