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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Helmets for Falls?

Published October 27, 2015 11:18 AM by Debra Karplus

It seems that I attend a lot of funerals these days, mostly of parents of my friends. At this recent funeral, the deceased had been a lively 93 years old. A bad fall at home and a nasty bump on the head lead to complications that ended her life rather quickly.  

At the meal after the funeral service, I shared with a few people that I was an occupational therapist and that many of my patients, particularly the geriatric ones, were victims of falls. One of the guests asked my why at-risk older folks did not wear protective helmets. That conversation really got me thinking.

I have a few older people in my family who are terrified of losing balance and falling, especially those who live alone. (One elderly relative shared with me that she sometimes wore a baseball cap around the house to protect her head in case she fell; right idea, but wrong kind of hat!) They are correct to be fearful, because falls are quite common in older people and can begin a chain of events that can shorten one's life quickly.

So why don't our patients who are at risk for falling wear protective helmets? Many people wear helmets as routine part of their gear for various activities. Football players, whether they are professional players in national leagues, or just young kids playing ball on a park district team, nearly always wear them - or at least they should. Responsible motorcycle riders and bicyclists, if they have any sense of self-preservation and safety, wear protective helmets. Equestrians often wear helmets in case of falling off the horse and getting injured. People, whether they are adults or children, on skateboards or skates should be wearing helmets.

As occupational therapists, helmets are sometimes part of our modality of adaptive equipment for certain medical situations. Babies and very young children often wear helmets, under our recommendation and supervision and monitoring for positioning. Some of the older ambulatory children that we see for therapy often wear helmets for protection and safety from injury.

So that brings us to patients on our caseloads that are especially vulnerable to falls. Might a protective helmet lessen the injury on the unfortunate occasion that they might fall, especially if they are living alone at home?

I would appreciate input from other occupational therapy practitioners and people reading this blog about your thoughts about protective helmets for seniors at risk for falling.

 Anyone?

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6 comments

Karen, Bobbie & Barbara, and also Kevin

Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment.

Debbie, article author

Debra Karplus November 10, 2015 1:32 PM

I think it  is an idea that merits more research. My mom is 86 and I can see her considering it.  I also

think that anyone over 50 may want to wear a helmet when up on the roof , cleaning gutters, etc

Karen, OT November 7, 2015 1:13 PM
Seattle WA

I understand the concept and reasoning but it is difficult to have seniors use their assistive walking devices much less a helmet. I look to the feet first for balance issues then to those arm for protective responses.

Bobbie Abbott, Home health - PTA/COTA, ALF/ILF November 4, 2015 8:33 PM
Ocala FL

I too have wondered about this, but having a 98 y.o. father living fairly independently in his home (with a caretaker) I just know that he would never consent to this. I can barely get him to consistently use a cane (technically he probably needs to use a walker). There would need to be PSAs and education directed towards the elderly in order to convince them of the safety and efficacy of helmets (if we even had the data). Maybe the PSAs should be about how dangerous it is to fall. This is the WWII and depression generation and they are tough cookies! At least, my dad is!

Barbara Goldfarb November 4, 2015 4:33 PM
Medfield MA

That's an interesting thought,Kevin k

I will see what I can find

..debbie

Debbie, author October 31, 2015 1:30 PM

I wear a helmet when I bicycle, because the death rate is about 1 per million hours, and helmets can reduce that by almost a factor of 5.  (Others may choose not to wear helmets, because the risk is too small to justify the discomfort.)

What is the death rate from head injuries for falls in elderly people?  Is the risk large enough to justify the intervention?

(I thought that the biggest risk was broken hips, and helmets do no good at reducing that risk.)

Kevin October 30, 2015 9:49 PM
Santa Cruz CA

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