The senior in your life lives relatively independently. You’ve been to their home and you know it’s a safe place for them. Still, one day you get a frantic phone call from your senior loved one that they’ve fallen and can’t get up. How do you get them safely back on their feet again?
How to lift elderly off the floor:
- Stay calm, look for injuries
- Set a chair by their feet and another by their head
- Roll the senior onto their side, help them into a kneeling position
- Have them brace their hands on the chair in front of them
- Help them put a single leg up toward the chair, as if doing knee lunges
- Reposition the other chair behind them until they can achieve a sitting position
In this article, we will elaborate on the tips listed above, going step by step so you know just what to do in such a situation. We’ll also discuss how seniors can help themselves after falling if they’re alone, as well as tips for safe falling.
What Do You Do When An Elderly Person Falls Down?
Let’s say you did get that dreaded phone call from your elderly parent or another important elderly person in your life. You’re happy to hear your senior is conscious and talking, but your mind races with the possibilities of what injuries they may have sustained. Did they break a hip or fracture a bone? Are they bleeding or maybe even concussed?
When you hear the news about the fall, either from them directly or someone else, obviously you should make it a point to get to your senior immediately. You should do so even if they say they’re all right.
Why? For one thing, they may not be able to get up, in which case you would have to assist them. Also, the senior may have worse injuries than even they are aware of. As we’ve discussed in other articles on this website, falls can kill an elderly person. Plus, a senior who falls once is more susceptible to having another fall in the future.
Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. –Centers For Disease Control And Prevention
Once you’re with your senior, you have two options: get them immediate medical treatment or wait until later to do so if they don’t have an injury that appears to be serious, such as a broken bone.
Who To Call When An Elderly Person Falls
In most cases, when an elderly person falls, you will call for an emergency responder by contacting 911.
Please be sure to treat the following as the emergencies they are, so the senior can be transported to the hospital immediately:
- If your senior is bleeding badly
- If they have severe bruising
- They are complaining of extreme pain
Even if it turns out their injury wasn’t as bad as anticipated, it’s better to be a little overcautious in these situations.
If you don’t think the injury warrants immediate hospitalization, then you should still call your primary care doctor and set up an appointment for either that day or the next. More than likely, your senior didn’t fall without any consequence, so they should get a look-over from a medical professional.
How To Lift Elderly Off Floor – Step by StepThe following steps are to be taken ONLY if YOU are capable of the procedure. In other words, do not attempt to life someone off the floor if you are not strong enough, or flexible enough or safe enough to perform the task. You may end up injuring yourself and further injuring the person who fell.
Before you begin helping anyone off the floor after they have fallen, you want to make sure that you won’t be injuring them more. What I mean is if they injured themselves in such a way (i.e. fractured a hip or severely pulled a muscle) you could incur further injury by helping them to get up.
So, the first set of steps is always to stay calm, help the person on the floor to get calm and assess them for serious injuries.
Step #1: Control your own nerves
You’re going to feel understandably upset when your senior falls. However, they will feed off your energy in a situation like this. If you go into this all freaked out, your senior may get more anxious and overwhelmed themselves.
Step #2: Calm the senior
Focus on how your senior is doing instead. If you can, get them to take slow, calming breaths until they feel better.
Step #3: Look for injuries
From where they are on the floor, check them over for signs of injuries. You can’t see broken bones in most cases, but you will certainly notice scrapes, bleeding, abrasions, and bruises.
Ask your senior about their pain level, as well. Avoid touching any areas that cause immense pain.
If they experience severe pain while you attempt to help them up then STOP and call 911 immediately. Keep your senior loved one as comfortable as possible until the paramedics arrive.
DO NOT move the person if they have or complain of a head or neck or back injury! Instead, call 911 immediately.
Step #4: Clear the surrounding area
If there is any debris nearby, clear this first. It could be spilled water, broken glass, items that were knocked off a table, etc. Whatever may have fallen with them, clear it away to make the surrounding area as safe as possible.
Step #5: Position your chairs or furniture
If there are no injuries and the person on the floor is not experiencing severe pain then you can begin the process of helping them up.
If they fell near a sofa or coffee table or sofa chair – you can use these pieces of furniture to help you to help them to get back up. The steps to do this are the same as if using the chairs that we talk about later on in this article.
But if they fell in the middle of the floor with no furniture near them then you’ll need to position two sturdy chairs by them.
Put one chair up by your senior’s feet and the other by their head. These must be chairs with non-slip feet – such as kitchen or dining chairs – work best for this.
Note: I recommend using a gait belt (like this one) or any type of belt around the waist of the person on the floor. You can use their clothing (as we show on the video) – it just depends on their weight and your strength to help them up.
Step #6: Roll your senior onto their side
By putting a hand by their head and another lower down on their body (or on the belt or clothing as I mentioned above), you can turn the senior over on their side. Do so gingerly to avoid exasperating any small injury they may have.
Position the upper leg slightly in front of the lower leg while they are laying on their side. And their upper arm should be bent at the elbow with their hand placed flat on the floor to help them push themselves up onto a kneeling position.
I will repeat – DO NOT move the person if they have or complain of a head or neck or back injury! Instead, call 911 immediately.
Step #7: Reposition one chair (or furniture)
There should be either a chair or piece of furniture (as I mentioned above) close to their head. They will be using this to lean on during Step #7.
Step #8: Get your senior in a kneeling position
If there is no carpeting or the floor is very hard, put a folded towel down beneath the senior’s knees to make it more comfortable as they push themselves up to get into the position where they are on all fours and then eventually just on their knees.
As you kneel by their hips, place your hands on their hips or use the gait belt to help them.
Ask them to push themselves up with their arms – as they do this you can help to raise their hips so that they end up on all fours with both palms and both knees on the ground.
At this point, you may have to bring the chair or furniture that is closest to their head as close to them as possible. When they feel comfortable, they can then place one hand at a time onto the chair or furniture that is in front of them to help them up onto their knees.
If you cannot move the piece of furniture (if they fell by a sofa) then, if possible, help them to crawl, on all fours, towards the sofa. It needs to be close enough for them to place both hands on it and help themselves to stand up.
Once they have pushed themselves up and are kneeling (instead of on all fours) wait a few minutes. Make sure they feel comfortable before you move forward. Some older adults experience dizziness at this time so you want to take things slow.
Step #9: Move the second chair into place
While they are kneeling, reposition the second chair (the one at their feet) so it’s behind them and close to their body. When they eventually stand up you will be guiding them onto that chair to sit so make sure it’s close enough to their buttocks so they can sit down safely.
Step #10: Get one of the senior’s legs up
When your senior is ready, ask them to lift their stronger leg so it is extended in front of them, with their foot placed flat on the floor (as if they were kneeling on one leg and ready to rise with the other leg). Before you ask them to do this, make sure they feel they have enough strength in at least that one leg to achieve this.
Step #11: Guide the senior into the second chair
As they push themselves up with both arms and their strong leg (and eventually both legs) you will be guiding them and helping them by holding onto the gait belt or clothing.
Your senior should be mostly standing now. With the chair behind them close at hand, they can collapse backwards and sit safely on the chair.
From there, you can now review their injuries in more depth.
How To Lift A Heavy Person Who Has Fallen
What if the elderly person in question is heavier? If they outweigh you, it makes handling them difficult.
Again, if you do not feel you have the strength or flexibility to manage helping them to safely get up off the floor, we strongly recommend that you call 911.
Otherwise, you can try following the above steps, but if you find you cannot roll the senior over onto their side, then it’s not worth proceeding. You could injure yourself while aiding them, thus rendering you unable to provide care for the senior in the immediate future.
As an example, my parents were close friends with another elderly couple and the man had Parkinson’s. He was over six feet tall, while his wife barely topped five feet in height. Near the end of his life, he fell several times due to advancing Parkinson’s symptoms, which made him unable to assist her when she tried to help him up.
Wisely, she called 911 after each fall and the EMTs were able to get him up. If she had helped him by herself, he may have fallen again, injuring both of them.
In a related story, my father did not call 911 when my mom was coping with her brain tumor. He tried to help her into the bathroom when she could still walk, but was rapidly losing control of her legs. They both fell (in his defense, he was 93 at the time). Thankfully, neither was injured, but Mom never trusted him to help her again and called hospice for a wheelchair the next day.
Living Alone – What Do You Do When You Are Alone And Fall And Can’t Get Up?
What if your senior loved one has fallen but they’re by themselves? This can be a horrifying, even potentially fatal situation.
To illustrate, the Christmas before my mom was diagnosed with her brain tumor, she tripped while coming in from the garage. She fell on the tiled kitchen floor, breaking her shoulder. My father was out playing bocce, so she was alone when she fell.
Mom couldn’t roll over to get up because she was laying on her broken shoulder and it was too painful for her to move. As a result, even though the phone was on the counter just three feet above her, she had to lay on that cold tile for more than an hour before Dad came home.
To avoid something like this, make sure you have a conversation with your senior about what to do in such a scenario.
Should they fall, here are the steps to follow:
Step #1: Again, it’s important for the senior to not get upset or panicky, as they may injure themselves further if they try to move and have neck or head or back injuries.
Step #2: They should take a moment to think through the situation before trying to move.
Step #3: Next, they should look around for nearby hazards. These include such things as spilled liquids and shattered glass. Obviously, they should keep away from items like these.
Step #4: After reviewing their surroundings, they should, as best they can, review the state of their injuries. Can they stand up or (like my mom) are they in too much pain? It’s not smart to try to get up if it hurts to move. That said, if at all possible, they should get to their feet, and then call 911 for medical attention.
Step #5: If they find that they cannot get up, they should try to make noise, such as banging or knocking on a wall or on the floor with a heavy object (or their hands if no such object is around). This might possibly grab the attention of a neighbor. They should also shout if they feel able.
Step #6: If their phone is in the room with them, the senior might try to slide or crawl towards it (again, assuming they are not too injured to try this).
Step #7: In homes or senior-living apartments that are equipped with a medical alert system, the senior will have to get to the system so they can press a button for help. If your senior doesn’t already have a medical alert system and they live alone, you might want to discuss having them get one.
An alternative (or in addition to a medical alert device) is to place Alexa devices throughout the home. Set them up with the Alert A Buddy skill on Alexa which when activated by saying “Alexa – Ask My Buddy For Help” will contact all 3 (or more) people that you have set up as “buddies” to be alerted for help.
Note, you can also use Alexa to call 911. Read here on how to set that up.
How To Get Up From A Fall Outside
Uneven pavement, jutting rocks, slippery grass, black ice: let’s face it – outdoor hazards abound. If your senior has fallen outdoors, you will have to take even greater precautions to get them upright. First, you definitely want to check them over, since outdoor injuries can be very serious.
If you can – and they do not have head or neck or back injuries – you will want to help them scoot or inch along to an area of the ground that’s less dangerous, such as away from the ice, grass, or rocks. Be sure the ground beneath them is stable enough (maybe even by bringing some chairs out from the kitchen or from the patio). Otherwise, they risk slipping and falling yet again.
Then, you can follow the steps we covered earlier in this article, modifying them as necessary.
In the future, to help prevent falls outdoors, do the following for your senior loved one’s home:
- Use salt or another substance that will melt snow and ice on the pavement around the property.
- Shovel their snow (or pay someone to do it) so it’s not obstructing paths or walkways.
- Get better lighting installed if the entryways and walkways look dim to you.
- Rid the front and back lawn of branches, slippery leaves, and other dangerous debris.
- Consider getting stair handrails installed with non-slip materials.
- For outdoor wooden steps, install Outdoor Anti Slip Treads like the ones made by Handi-Treads which are specifically designed for wooden outdoor steps, decks and other wood surfaces. It’s an aluminum product that the manufacturer states will not rust or wear out.
- For concrete or tile steps – install rubber treads. You have options of choosing patterned ones and others that are laser cut with lots of designs to choose from. But be careful with the ones that are laser cut. They look very pretty but if your elderly loved one uses a cane or walker, the tips of those devices may get stuck in the tread.
How The Elderly Can Fall Safely
The way in which a senior falls is very important, as it can potentially minimize injury. That said, falls often happen so quickly that you are hitting the ground before you even realize that you are falling, but if it is possible, there are some things people may be able to do to lessen their risk.
Teach your senior loved one these helpful methods for a safer fall:
- Bend the knees and elbows so they are “limp”, in order to prevent injury-causing body rigidity.
- Depending on the direction of the fall, they should move their head to avoid a head injury. If they are falling backwards, they should try to tuck their chin down towards their chest. If they are falling forward, they should turn their head left or right.
- Focus on landing on areas like the thighs, rear, or back. The muscles here can better handle an impact it since they’re meatier.
- Let the fall happen and even roll into it. Trying too hard to prevent a fall can actually cause injury as well.
Fall Prevention At Home In The Elderly
In order to reduce the risk of falling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends some steps that seniors can take at home to prevent falls.
- Get your eyes checked and update prescriptions if needed.
- Talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider and ask them to do a fall risk assessment on you. They should also provide you with suggestions of things you can do to prevent falls (for example, recommending exercises to strengthen weak legs).
- Review any medications (including over the counter medications) you are taking with your doctor or with the pharmacist who dispenses them. Some medications can make people sleepy or dizzy, which can increase their chances of falling.
- Ask your doctor to do a blood test to find out your Vitamin D levels. This isn’t usually a standard test, although many people are deficient in Vitamin D. Being low in D can result in osteoporosis, weak muscles, and bone fractures. While our bodies normally manufacture Vitamin D from sun exposure, older adults skin does not make it as well as it did when they were younger. Additionally, some medications can interrupt Vitamin D metabolism. Among them are certain cholesterol drugs and some corticosteroids (used for arthritis).
- Many seniors are more sedentary than when they were young. Muscle weakness can lead to a fall, so find a Silver Sneakers exercise program at your local YMCA or locate another exercise program that is geared towards seniors.
- You could also look for balance classes, such as chair yoga or tai chi, to improve muscle strength.
- Get rid of clutter in the home, add railings to both sides of a staircase, make sure lighting in the home is adequate by installing more lights or using higher watt bulbs to make rooms brighter.
- Remove throw rugs, which are a tripping hazard.
- Install grab bars in the bathroom and use anti-slip mats when getting out of the tub or shower.
We have more recommendations in our article on How To Fall Proof A Home For Elderly Parents.
When your senior falls in their home, it’s important to control your emotions and act swiftly. In other situations such as outdoor falls, the steps you’ll follow are largely the same as the ones we have outlined in this article for falls at home.
You should also sit down with your senior and have a conversation about what they’d do if they fell alone. By teaching them to fall safely, they could potentially limit injury severity.
No one wants to hear the awful news that their senior fell, but with the tips and advice in this article, you’re ready if it ever does happen.
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