Everybody falls sometimes: What we can learn by “watching” what we don’t often see

Everybody falls sometimes: What we can learn by “watching” what we don’t often see

My 89 year old sweet gramma had a terrible fall a few months ago (she is fine now).

She was at her “home”, a long term care facility (often called residential care) in Vancouver. A care aide came upon her on the ground with blood pouring from the back of her head. She ended up with a visit to the ER and 15 stiches. What happened? My gramma has dementia, so she could not tell us—there was nothing around to give a hint as to what had unfolded. Fortunately my gramma recovered but it raised so many questions for us. What was she doing at the time of the injury? How could this have been prevented? Was it something in her environment, a slip, a trip, medication?

This is sadly not an uncommon scenario. In residential care upwards of 60% of residents have a fall that results in injury and/or hospitalization every year. It is very difficult for staff to know what has happened to precipitate a fall, especially for those falls that are unwitnessed. I have been working with a group of scientists who are trying to unravel the mystery of why people fall in residential care.

If we better understand the why, we have a much better chance of being able to prevent future falls. Our team has been able to better understand falls through the use of video capture data taken in several residential care facilities. We are able to use the video capture data to look at fall incidents and view what was happening right before, during and after a fall. We can also look at the environment and the biomechanics of the fall. We have several academic articles published on this work ranging from an analysis of the biomechanics to how we can use the video capture data to better inform educational approaches for staff in residential care.

While we did not have video capture data of my gramma (although that would have made it easier) after many weeks of careful observation my mom and I put the puzzle together. My gramma must have been bending over near the corner of a table. As she came up she scored the back of her head and then tumbled sideways—hence the head injury at the back but resting on her side. Her home has since fixed the sharp table edges. By being able to “watch” what often goes unseen provides us tremendous insight and potential for improving care and reducing falls and resultant injuries.