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Preventing Falls

Children with cancer can be at risk for falls, especially at certain times during treatment. Falls can lead to injury and interfere with cancer care. Falls, or fear of falling, can also create stress and worry for patients and families. Knowing the risks for falling and taking action can help prevent falls.

Factors that Increase Fall Risk

  • Recent anesthesia or sedation for a medical test or procedure
  • Previous history of falling
  • Weakness due to illness or problems eating and drinking
  • Unfamiliar surroundings
  • Younger age, less developed physical or intellectual skills
  • Certain medicines
  • Problems walking because of pain, stiff joints, tight muscles, or leg weakness
  • Change in mental status or brain function (such as confusion, decreased alertness, loss of balance, dizziness, disorientation, problems thinking, or impulsive behavior)
  • Loss of feeling in legs and feet because of illness or treatment (such as peripheral neuropathy)
  • Seizure disorders
  • Weight loss or gain over a short period of time
  • Use of assistive devices such as canes, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs

How to Prevent Falls in the Hospital

The risk of falls can be greater in the hospital than it is at home because of illness, procedures, medicines, and changes in environment and routine. Medical devices and equipment can interfere with movement or cause a patient to trip. Some patients may need to wear a special hospital bracelet if they have a higher than normal risk of falls.

Ways families can help prevent falls in the hospital include:

  • Remind patients to move slowly when getting up from a bed or chair.
  • Watch out for medical equipment like IVs and feeding tubes that can get in the way of movement.
  • Keep the side rails of the hospital bed up, and keep the bed in the lowest position.
  • Have a family or staff member present any time the patient is in a hospital bed.
  • Help children become familiar with the hospital or new surroundings.
  • Do not allow children to play, stand, or ride on rolling stools, chairs, or IV poles.
  • Help patients with tasks such as getting on and off exam tables or using the bathroom.
  • Do not allow patients to get up and walk around too soon after being sedated. Use a wheelchair or wagon if the child is unsteady after sedation or anesthesia.
A wagon or wheelchair can help patients get around safely if they have trouble walking on their own or get tired easily.

A wagon or wheelchair can help patients get around safely if they have trouble walking on their own or get tired easily.

Tips to Help Prevent Falls

Whether at home or in the hospital, there are some easy ways patients and families can help prevent falls. These include:

  • Use foot braces, crutches, wheelchair, walker, or cane if recommended.
  • Wear non-slip, supportive shoes that fit well. Avoid flip flops or shoes that are too big or that may cause tripping. Keep shoe laces tied. If walking in socks, make sure they have grips on the bottom to prevent slipping.
  • Check that clothing fits well and does not get in the way of movement.
  • Encourage walking instead of running, skipping, or jumping.
  • Pay attention to surroundings, and avoid distractions like cell phones when walking.
  • Limit stair use when possible. Go slowly when using the stairs, and hold onto the rail.
  • Avoid clutter, especially on the floor. Keep stairs and walkways free of objects. Keep cords out of the way.
  • Turn on lights when moving around. Use night lights, especially in hallways, bathrooms, and stairs.
  • Secure rugs to the floor with tacks, non-skid pads, or double-sided tape.
  • Use door mats and bath mats to keep water off floors. Clean up spills that make floors slippery.
  • Watch out for uneven surfaces, pets, toys, or other items that can cause tripping.

Preventing Falls at Home

Many falls at home can be prevented by taking simple steps.

  • Be aware. Look around for common fall risks.
  • Remove tripping hazards and obstacles.
  • Help children understand why they need to be careful and what they should watch out for.
  • Use assistive devices if they are needed. The care team can help families plan for patient care aids such as mobility devices, non-slip bath mats, shower chairs, grab rails for the bath and toilet, portable toilet chairs, transfer boards, bed rails, and wheel chair ramps.

If falls are an ongoing problem, services such as physical therapy can help decrease the frequency of and risk for falls.


Reviewed: September 2019