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The Safest Way to Get Up From a Fall

Use these tactics if you ever take a spill

spinner image woman getting up from a fall
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A fair amount of media and medical attention is paid to preventing falls among older adults — but there are times when people fall, despite taking the recommended precautions. Every year, more than 25 percent of adults age 65 and older fall, and falling once doubles a person’s chances of falling again, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making matters worse, sometimes older adults have trouble getting up without assistance. This is partly because people don’t learn this skill, and partly because people become more stiff and less agile as they get older.

But there are effective ways to get up from a fall. “It’s a good idea to practice getting up, almost like a fire drill,” says Brianne Carroll, a physical therapist at the NYU Langone Orthopedic Center in New York, New York. That way, you’ll know what to do in the event that you fall. Plus, “being able to get up from the floor [without assistance] is a positive health behavior, just the same way that exercising is,” Carroll says.

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What follows are step-by-step instructions for effective ways to get back up. First, take a moment to “scan your body for injuries,” advises Leah Verebes, an assistant professor in the physical therapy program at the Touro University School of Health Sciences in New York, New York. “If something hurts as you move, it is best to remain on the floor and seek assistance.” The concern is that if you’re seriously injured and you try to get up, you could make the injury worse.

If you feel okay, though perhaps a bit shaken, here’s a good strategy for trying to get up.

Slowly roll onto your side, push yourself up onto your hands and knees (into a crawling position), and crawl toward a sturdy chair, coffee table, or couch.

Once you’re in front of the steady piece of furniture, put your hands on it and put your stronger leg out first, then get up into a half-lunge position before rising to a standing position, Carroll suggests. If you can’t fully stand, you can turn your body and sit on the chair, sofa, or table. If you can’t crawl because you have bad knees, you can scoot on your butt on the floor or roll your way over to that piece of furniture, says Pam Toto, a professor in occupational therapy at the University of Pittsburgh.

Another option involves turning to your side, placing your hands on the floor and pushing to bring your body into a seated position. “If possible, reach for a cushion to slide underneath your bottom,” Verebes says. “Push back onto the cushion as much as you can then lift your bottom up and onto the chair.” If there isn’t a chair nearby, you can scoot your way to a step on a staircase then put your butt on the lowest step and use your legs to push yourself up to a higher one, Toto says.

If someone comes to your aid, keep this in mind: There’s a “high risk of injury for partners or caretakers if they try to help someone up if they’re dead weight,” Toto says. (See the video below that shows how caregivers can help people get up from a fall.) Plus, if you’re the one on the floor, you might fall again, Carroll adds, because “it’s hard for you to generate enough force for you to help them lift you up.”

Whichever strategy you use to get up, take your time and don’t try to do too many things at once, Carroll says. “Once you get up from a fall, sit for a couple of minutes and calm yourself so you don’t get up too quickly and fall again.”

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If you can't get up, technology can help

If you can’t rise after falling, don’t panic. If you plan ahead, there are a variety of technological devices you can use to come to your rescue. First, there are traditional medical alert systems, which often involve wearing a pendant, bracelet, or device on the hip that will detect a fall or that are triggered by pushing a button; these will alert the monitoring agency, someone on your emergency contact list, or emergency medical services that you need help.

In addition, smart watch technology now offers a fall detection feature, Verebes says. The watch senses a change in position and checks in with the user via a sensation or tone to see if the user is safe. “The tone gets significantly louder and more persistent until the individual answers the notification,” she explains. This type of device allows someone to get in touch with their emergency contact or emergency medical services from the watch itself. If you’re not able to buy one of these devices, it’s smart to carry a cordless phone or smartphone with you at all times, Verebes says. That way, you can contact emergency services if you need help after a fall.

What to Do When Someone Falls

For more information on the newest technology and features see How to Choose a Medical Alert System. 

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