How to Guard Against Falls, What To Do When It Happens

Senior woman with headache fell to the floor and looking for cane

For younger people, taking a tumble can seem like an inconsequential thing. But if you’re an older adult, falling down can be a serious situation – and can even lead to death.

Every 11 seconds in the U.S., an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even more alarming, every 19 minutes, an older adult dies as a result of a fall, the CDC says.

That’s why it’s important that older adults who live alone or are left alone for two hours or longer guard against falls and have some way to communicate in case a fall occurs, says geriatric medicine specialist Taryn Lee, MD.

Alert Devices

Many people turn to medical alert systems that can put the wearer in touch with help after a fall. These devices, worn as pendants or bracelets, typically connect the wearer with a private dispatch center, family member or caregiver or public emergency medical services at the push of a button.

However, choosing the right one can be challenging because of the wide variety of features, service options and fees.

The monthly monitoring fee needed for the device – normally around $40 to $50 – can be expensive.

Two features that Dr. Lee suggests to look for when shopping for a medical alert device are:

  • Water-resistance. This allows the device to be worn in the bathroom, where many falls occur, and while bathing.
  • Price. Generally, Dr. Lee says, private insurance and most Medicaid plans don’t pay for medical alert devices, so price may be a consideration.

“My advice is not to get caught up on bells and whistles,” she says. “Whittle it down to what options you absolutely need and don’t make it overly complicated.”

Other Options

You may want to compare an alert device’s pros and cons to alternatives like mobile phones and digital assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, Dr. Lee says.

While the cost may be lower, there are other factors to consider, she says.

“If the device is on your bedroom nightstand when you fall in the bathroom, it isn’t going to help,” Dr. Lee says. “The device is also not going to be much help to somebody who is memory impaired and can’t remember how it works.”

Other options to consider include:

  • Mobile phones. Like the alert device, one drawback is it may not always be within reach of a fall victim. People tend to leave them on tables or counters as they move about.
  • Video cameras. “You can very easily and inexpensively set up a camera to monitor what Mom is up to on your computer or mobile device,” Dr. Lee says. “But there are privacy issues that come with that. Some people may not want their kids looking in on them all the time.”

Related links

Looking for a primary care physician? UH offers online appointment scheduling for select UH physicians and specialties, including primary care. Or find a doctor with our online tool, which allows you to search by location.

Back to Top