- If you experience any of the following symptoms after a fall, call 911 immediately: Loss of consciousness, inability to stand or walk, confusion, dizziness, extreme pain in one of your extremities, balance problems, headaches, weakness or numbness in the arms or legs, difficulty speaking, visual disturbances, vomiting, or hearing loss.
- If you do not believe you need to call 911, still see or speak to your physician within the coming days.
- Assess your injury to determine whether it was an extrinsic or intrinsic fall.
- Review your list of medications to see if any of them could have caused the fall or increase your risk of complications following.
Falls are one of the biggest concerns amongst older adults, and for good reason: people 65 and over have a 1 in 4 chance of falling at least once annually. When you turn 75, that risk goes up to 1 in 3.
But even if you work hard to prevent a fall, there’s no way around the fact that sometimes they still happen. In this article, we will explore what you should do after a fall, including when to seek immediate medical attention and how to assess your injury.
When to Call 911 Right Away
In most instances, you’ll want to seek medical attention as quickly as possible after a fall. Certain symptoms are a signal that you should likely call 911 to get seen immediately vs. seeing a doctor within the coming days.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms immediately after falling, it’s best to call 911 immediately:
- Loss of consciousness
- Inability to stand or walk
- Extreme pain in one of your extremities
- Balance problems
- Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
- Difficulty speaking
- Visual disturbances
- Hearing loss
Additionally, if you’re alone and can’t get up on your own, you should also call 911 for help.
Individuals on anti-coagulants (like Eliquis or Xarelto) are at increased risk for bleeding complications. If you're on blood-thinning medications and experience a fall, especially if you lose consciousness, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Assessing the Injury
If you do not believe you need to call 911 after your fall, you still should plan to see or speak to your physician to discuss what happened within the coming days.
Just as important as what happened is why it happened: Was it related to a medication you’re taking or something environmental? What can be changed in the future to prevent it?
As you’re assessing your condition, here are questions to ask yourself:
Did I hit my head?
Hitting your head can lead to a brain injury and is a sign you should seek medical attention ASAP. Even if it initially feels like things are fine, you run the risk of something called a subdural hematoma, which is a build up of blood on the surface of the brain. If you take oral anti-coagulants, you’re at an increased risk of this happening.
This condition can sometimes occurs hours or days later, so it’s important to not dismiss yourself as being in the clear because you don’t have any immediate symptoms.
Do I have any pain weight-wearing?
One of the most common injuries sustained during a fall is a hip fracture. If you experience significant pain when trying to bear weight on your legs, it could be a sign that you fractured your hip. Here are symptoms to look out for:
- Severe pain in the hip or groin, which may be sharp or aching
- Inability to stand or walk on the affected side
- One leg that is shorter or turned outward on the affected side
- Bruising and swelling in the hip area
- Difficulty moving the affected leg
In some cases, people with a hip fracture may be able to walk a short distance, but it will be very painful. They may also have difficulty getting up from a chair or bed.
If you believe you might have a hip fracture, you should call 911.
Do I feel pain in any of my extremities?
You should gently move every one of your extremities to examine if there is any pain. This includes your hands, fingers, wrists, upper arms, and shoulders on the upper half of your body, and your feet, toes, ankles, lower legs, thighs, and hips on the lower half. You should also examine your neck and head to see how they feel.
As you examine, note any pain, discomfort, or loss of movement. If you find any abnormalities, seek medical attention promptly.
Do I know why I fell?
Falls can generally be categorized into two types: extrinsic falls — which occur due to external, environmental factors, such as tripping on an obstacle — and intrinsic falls, which result from factors within your body, like losing consciousness, fainting, or experiencing an arrhythmia.
Understanding the cause of the fall will be essential in guiding your next steps.
Was this an intrinsic fall?
If you determine your fall was an intrinsic fall, even if you’re feeling fine at the moment, it’s imperative to seek medical attention immediately. The fall may indicate an underlying medical issue that need to be examined.
Do any of my medications increase my risk of complications?
Review the list of medications that you’re currently taking to see if any of them could have a side effect that led to the fall, or if they increase your risk of complications following the fall.
Individuals on anti-coagulants (like Eliquis or Xarelto) are at increased risk for bleeding complications and should seek medical help immediately.
Staying Safe After the Fall
Even if you feel confident that you don’t need to call 911, it’s still important that you don’t brush off the experience and try to move quickly. Here’s what to do.
See if Anyone is Around to Help You Get Up
If you’re not sure how hurt you are and know that you have a loved one or neighbor nearby who can come help, it’s best to stay on the ground and wait for their assistance.
Use your cell phone, a safety alert device, the Amazon Echo, or any other nearby devices to get in touch with help. The Apple Watch has a Fall Detection feature that will automatically detect a fall and alert a designated loved one.
Don't Rush to Get Up
Feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable about being on the ground is a common reaction.
Do not attempt to get up quickly in order to brush it off; this only increases the risk of injuring yourself further. Rushing can lead to poor balance and coordination, making it more likely to fall again. Wait until someone can come assist you.
Have Companionship Over the Coming Days
Even if you don't experience any immediate symptoms or injuries after a fall, it's best to have support with you.
You should ideally be with someone who knows your medical history and can look out for any potential complications.
Even if you feel like you’re okay to be back on your own, let your loved ones and friends help you as you recover. Accepting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Falls happen at every age, but they’re particularly concerning for older adults because of the increased risk of injury and complications. After a fall, it’s essential to seek medical attention and get a clear picture of what led to it so that you can take precaucations in the future.
Remember that it's okay to ask for help and let others assist you in getting back on your feet. Prioritizing your safety and health is the most important thing you can do after a fall.