Tips for Preventing Falls Among Mesothelioma Patients
Falls are the most common type of injury among the elderly, and can lead to serious injuries that can increase the risk of early death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls, and the incidence rate of falls in hospitals is three times that of home-based adults. Mesothelioma patients, who are typically 65 years or older, are more susceptible to falls due to their weakened state, use of multiple medications and treatment-induced fatigue. However, falls can be prevented and it is critical to maintain a living environment that allows mesothelioma patients to get up and move about safely.
Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive form of cancer primarily caused by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, it can be treated with varying degrees of success through the use of surgical procedures, chemotherapy and radiation. When the patient is not in a medical facility receiving treatments, he is more than likely spending the time convalescing or resting at home.
Fall Risk Factors
While not all mesothelioma patients are at risk of falling, it is important for their caregivers, family members and friends to be aware of fall risks. According to the American Geriatrics Society, the primary risk factors for falling can be categorized into three areas: intrinsic factors, extrinsic factors and environmental factors.
Intrinsic factors include lower extremity weakness, poor grip strength, balance disorders and visual impairment. Extrinsic factors are primarily driven by the patient taking multiple medications, and patients taking four or more medications are shown to be at a higher risk of falling. Environmental factors include poor lighting, loose carpets and lack of bathroom safety equipment. A patient who has previously fallen is likely to fall again.
Environmental Factor Control
Controlling the environmental factors and offering physical support to the patient when getting up are two areas a caregiver can make the most impact for keeping a patient safe. When assessing the living space, keep in mind that the area should support someone that may be unstable and weak. Anything that may be used to lean on should be firmly installed or should be removed.
Suggestions for preventing falls at home:
- Use a “call” system, such as a bell or other noisemaker, for the patient to alert the caregiver that he is about to get up. Do not allow the patient to get up on his own, if he is at risk for falling.
- If the patient is using a cane or walker, make sure it is within reach.
- Keep eyeglasses, hearing aids and other such items nearby and easily accessible to the patient.
- Encourage the patient to wear rubber-soled, slip-on shoes for better traction and stability. Slippers can be worn when sitting down, but should not be used when walking.
- The Visiting Nurse Service of New York suggests cleaning up clutter and removing fall hazards, such as unsecured area rugs, loose electrical cords, and items on the floor.
What the Patient Can Do
Duke Medicine has developed a brochure entitled, “Partnering for Patient Safety” offering guidelines for the patient and caregiver to prevent injury in patients. Duke asks the caregiver and patient to “partner with us to stay safe.”
High-risk patients staying at Duke Hospital are clearly identified to the staff. Patients are asked to wear a special wristband, a “High Falls Risk” sign is placed in the patient’s room and nonskid socks will be issued to the patient.
When a patient is staying in the hospital, Duke offers the following suggestions to help prevent falls:
- Use the call button to call for help.
- Wait for a nurse to help you to the bathroom, and avoid being left alone when in the bathroom.
- Make sure the room is appropriately lit before getting up.
- Do not grab beds, chairs or tables with wheels – you may lose your balance.
- Do not climb over or lean on the side rail on the bed.
Mesothelioma patients often undergo rigorous treatments to combat the aggressive cancer. Unfortunately, this can leave the patient fatigued and unstable. Dealing with a broken bone or other serious injury from a fall can hinder progress. It is critical that everything is done to prevent a fall to ensure the mesothelioma patient can focus his energy on the cancer treatments.