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What is tripping up our residents?

Staff at Holy Family have identified an innovative solution to keep residents safe, while maintaining their dignity.

It is truly only a watchful eye that would catch such a thing: falls for our residents at Holy Family Hospital increased between the hours of 4 to 8 p.m.

And then perhaps it is only a compassionate heart that would implement a deceptively simple idea to help remedy this issue: have volunteers keep an extra eye on residents during these times to help reduce the frequency of falls.

While fall prevention programs are quite common in hospitals and residential care homes around the world, the current practice of using restraints in residential care to prevent falls is in direct contradiction of our Elder Care Program’s Residential Care for Me work, and its supporting Megamorphosis quality improvement process, which is defined by meaningful moments, resident-led engagement and home being a feeling.

“We do not have people restrained,” says Rae Johnson, site leader, Holy Family Hospital. “It’s better for residents to continue to walk, to continue to be mobile, as this helps them to be less likely to fall. But even when they have good mobility, they are still at risk.”

The best fall prevention strategy for older adults, and especially for those with dementia, is increased supervision. However, increased supervision means increased staff which, because of budget and staffing, isn’t always possible.

Which is what makes the solution so wonderfully basic: keen volunteers provide supervision and added focus on common risk factors like ensuring wheelchair brakes are on, or that belongings and call bells are within reach, or that a resident isn’t straining to get up — essentially, they act as an extra pair of eyes to ensure residents’ safety and that no unnecessary risks are taken at a time of day when we know that our residents are becoming more tired and there are fewer activities to keep them occupied.

The innovative Fall-unteer program was first implemented as a Research Challenge in 2015 and is scoring high marks as what may be Canada’s first program of its kind.

First and foremost, it’s working. Falls at Holy Family have already been reduced by 40% in areas where a program volunteer is present. Second, it was able to be implemented almost immediately, and lastly, it costs practically nothing.

Falls are the most common cause of injury and the sixth leading cause of death for elders. According to HealthLinkBC, one-third of people, aged 65 and over, will fall at least once a year. To be proactively working to minimize the opportunity for that to be the fate of our residents, while ensuring maintained mobility and dignity, perhaps feels like the biggest win of all.