911 and Falling

When Someone With Dementia Falls: Call 911?
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A quick and appropriate response can minimize pain, confusion, and complications when someone with dementia suffers an accidental fall. Always report a fall to a doctor if you're at all in doubt.

When to call 911

Certain signs indicate a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Call 911 if:

  • The person is unconscious.

  • The person is having difficulty regaining consciousness.

  • There's an obvious fracture.

  • The person is in a lot of pain.

  • Something about the nature of the fall warrants concern about spine or neck injury (for example, falling down the stairs or an inability to move).

  • You notice signs of an acute medical problem that could have caused the fall, including chest pain, shortness of breath, or signs of stroke.

When to get same-day (nonemergency) medical attention

Some falls don't warrant an ambulance but require medical care because they may lead to complications if not treated.

Get same-day medical treatment from your doctor or a walk-in clinic if:

  • The person has hit his or her head. Older adults are at higher risk for bleeding between the brain and the skull after a head trauma. A CT scan of the head is therefore wise after any head injury. This is critical and requires immediate medical attention if there's also a worsening headache, nausea, vomiting, or a change in mental status or neurological abilities.

  • There's been a cut that might require stitches or additional attention. (A more minor abrasion can be treated the same way you'd treat one in a child: Wash it, apply antibiotic ointment, and cover the wound.)

  • The person reports significant pain in any bones or joints, which could be signs of fracture or bleeding in a joint.

  • The person is no longer able to walk (but could before the fall).

  • The person has less mental or physical function than before the fall (for example, is more confused than usual or has a reduced range of motion).

What else you can do

Check blood pressure (if you have a home monitor), pulse, and blood sugar (if diabetic) and report this information to the doctor, along with circumstances of the fall.

Be sure to explain to each person you talk to that your loved one has dementia. Also explain the stage of dementia as best you can to establish a baseline of what your loved one was like before the fall (which may have worsened confusion or physical ability).

If a fall doesn't seem to be a medical emergency, tell your doctor about it anyway and keep a close watch for any change in symptoms or in physical or mental status.

You should also be sure to bring up the fall again at the next in-person primary care visit. Although it's not possible to guarantee that a person with dementia won't fall again, many things can be done to reduce the chance of future falls.

Find out what to tell the doctor when someone with dementia falls.

Learn what doctors should evaluate after someone with dementia falls.

Dr. Leslie Kernisan

Leslie Kernisan is a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics, and maintains a popular blog and podcast at BetterHealthWhileAging. See full bio