Law & Medicine

Don’t Take the Fall With Head Injuries

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Finally, a word about falls and the elderly: We’ve all heard the 80s advertising catchphrase (which lives on as a present-day meme) “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” The problem is, many don’t. It would be more clinically accurate to say, “I’ve fallen, and I’ll be hospitalized for an extended period of time, then transferred to a skilled nursing facility, but I won’t survive to discharge.” The reality is that falls kill, and the severity is underestimated.10 If it were a “brain-eating amoeba,” the media would be all over it. With falls, not so much. We tend to pay less attention.

Risk factors for a fall include postural hypotension; use of benzodiazepines or other sedative-hypnotic drugs; use of ≥ 4 medications; environmental hazards for tripping; impairment in balance and transfer skills; and gait impairment.11 Home setup also contributes—loose throw rugs, uneven carpet edges, cracked sidewalks, clutter and furniture, cables and wires and cords, oh my.

Do your older patients a favor by reinforcing fall risk. Instruct them to rise slowly from seated or recumbent positions; always consider central nervous system sedation and/or the coordination-hampering properties of medications, particularly in combination. Raise the issue of home safety. A brief 10-second comment from you may plant a seed in a family member’s head to do what you cannot: scan and make safe the patient’s living environment.

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