How Senior Care Facilities Can Help Minimize the Impact of Falls

Bryce Betteridge, CEO, SATECH Inc.

Falls can have serious implications on a senior’s health, and preventing falls is a significant concern for any senior care facility.

According to the National Council on Aging, one out of every four Americans aged 65 and older will fall each year. An older adult is treated for a fall in the emergency room every 11 seconds, while an older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes.

With falls being the leading cause of fatal injury in older adults, senior care facilities need to not only work to prevent falls, but also to minimize the injuries that result when falls do occur. This combined approach of prevention and the reduction of fall severity can help keep residents safe.

Best Practices in Fall Prevention

These best practices can help to reduce fall frequency:

  • Install handrails and grab bars in high-risk areas like bathrooms and stairs.
  • Install bright lightbulbs to enhance visibility.
  • Require residents to wear well-fitting good shoes and slippers to maximize traction.
  • Encourage regular activity to help maintain strength and balance.
  • Require residents to have frequent checkups and to use assistive devices if/when a doctor recommends them.
  • Carefully monitor residents during medication dosage changes or when starting new medications for side effects like blurred vision and dizziness.

Even if all fall prevention best practices are followed, falls can and will still occur. To help keep residents as safe as possible in the event of a fall, there needs to also be a focus on the role that flooring plays in minimizing fall injuries.

Best Practices in Flooring Selection

A community’s flooring plays an essential role in minimizing the severity of the injuries a resident might sustain in a fall. While the first instinct might be to invest in a soft flooring or mat to help absorb the impact of a fall, that can be problematic. Bryce Betteridge, CEO of SATECH Inc., explains that soft cushions usually impair balance and contribute to falls.

“People think if flooring is soft and squishy, it’s going to be the best. But that’s not the case. You can lose your balance on a too-soft surface, and you can get hurt,” Betteridge notes.

SmartCells Fall Protection technology poses a solution. When in a resting state, these fall protection mats and flooring have a natural, supportive, upright force that won’t impair balance or mobility. “These products are strong and firm enough to support normal ambulation, wheelchairs, and walking. But upon the impact of a fall, these products compress and absorb the impact energy from a fall. The cellular tubes that make up SmartCells collapse laterally and resist bottoming out unlike overly soft foam-based products.

“SmartCells products reduce 90% of the peak impact force,” says Betteridge. As you fall, gravity causes you to accelerate, especially if you fall from height. SmartCells flooring reduces this force by 90% when compared to a cement floor.

In addition to being soft and potentially affecting balance, foam products may bottom out under impact. As foam compresses, it gets harder, to the point that falling on foam can feel just like falling on a hard floor. SmartCells products do the opposite – they get softer as they’re compressed because of their unique construction.

Care centers and retirement communities also need to consider flooring’s practicality and durability. Foam cushions with a waterproof surface will absorb liquids as soon as that surface rips. SmartCells flooring and mats are made of solid rubber that won’t absorb liquid, so cleaning up major spills is as easy as washing the flooring off, reducing infection control risk, whereas foam products that rupture can become uncleanable and harbor pathogen growth.

By opting for waterproof cushioning, a facility can save money on replacement flooring and on the time and labor that would go into repeatedly replacing flooring or mats.

Best Practices in Flooring Installation

Poor flooring installation practices can contribute to falls, but strategically and correctly installing a product like SmartCells flooring can help to reduce falls and minimize injuries from the falls that do occur.

When installing flooring, use appropriately sized products that allow for smooth transitions between rooms and different surfaces. Installations that are as flush as possible can help to eliminate tripping hazards. This is particularly important with mats; look for mats with a minimal thickness so that transitions onto and off of them are smooth for walking, wheelchairs, and rollators.

“With SmartCells, we can retrofit a floor or perform a new build,” says Betteridge. “Because these products are an inch thick, we design smooth transition zones so that you don’t even know when you’re ramping up to the height of the floor.” These products are not only ADA-compliant, but can also accommodate installations with zero transitions. These qualities are essential to ensuring a safe, smooth installation.

Chad Lindstrom, Vice President of Marketing, SATECH Inc.

SmartCells products offer both wall-to-wall and bedside mat solutions. Chad Lindstrom, Vice President of Marketing at SATECH Inc., explains that wall-to-wall products give communities the chance to create a customized safe room. “You can have SmartCells installed wall-to-wall, then you can put sheet vinyl over the top so that you can’t even see or feel that the SmartCells flooring is there,” he explains. “But as a fall occurs, the resident is protected no matter where they fall.”

Another factor to also consider is whether a product is easy to install. “A handyman with some skill in cutting carpet tiles or other materials can easily install SmartCells,” says Betteridge. SmartCells has detailed installation instructions and also maintains relationships with local flooring companies to help facilitate installations.

For fall protection flooring to be the most beneficial, though, it needs to be strategically installed. Installing flooring in an area where residents don’t spend much time or are not at risk of falling isn’t making the best use of that investment. That’s why SmartCells specialists work directly with community directors to determine the best installation locations for their facility.

“I think it feels more like a consultative process versus a sales person coming in and trying to sell you on outfitting the whole facility,” says Lindstrom. “Our specialists take the time to understand your location and the different levels of care. Maybe the common room is a better use of SmartCells, or maybe there are two people in your community who are the most prone to falls, so you want to make sure they’re completely safe. Maybe it’s best to outfit your Alzheimer’s unit or wing.”

With so many variables at work, SmartCells Fall Protection representatives try to understand the overall need and recommend what makes sense both economically and in terms of safety. “We make sure we’re being smart about it.”

“We want to help you optimize your investment in SmartCells and protect the areas that really need it the most,” says Betteridge. “That may end up changing the project scope.”

Making the Right Flooring Choice

Communities need to consider many factors when choosing flooring and mat products to help minimize fall severity. In addition to the product’s design, performance, and installation, price is a factor. It can pay off to get creative with finding ways to fund specialty flooring. According to Betteridge, facilities have held fundraisers to install SmartCells products.

“One facility educated the community about the benefits of SmartCells, and the community raised the money to install it in a bunch of rooms,” says Betteridge. “By getting other people involved with helping fund the project, the facility doesn’t have to take on the expense.”

Betteridge notes that some locations also get families involved. If families are aware of SmartCells and want to help keep their loved one safer, a facility may allow the installation if the family pays for it. “it’s a little insurance policy for the family that can help to keep their loved one safer longer.”

While any type of specialty flooring will be an investment, warranty protection can help ensure that a facility gets the most out of its flooring purchase. SmartCells offers an eight-year warranty for its bedside mats, which exceeds the warranties that you’ll find for most other foam-based mat products. Additionally, if a facility installs vinyl or carpet tile over a SmartCells installation, SmartCells will match the warranty on those products.

With strategic flooring choices and fall prevention best practices, a facility can make life safer for its residents. Installing quality cushioned flooring like SmartCells is a wise investment that can pay off with fewer serious injuries when falls occur.

Topics: Administration , Departments , Design , Featured Articles , Housing , Operations , Resident Care , Risk Management , Senior Environments