Fall Prevention in the Elderly

The word “fall” does not usually strike fear in the hearts of most people. But it should. Falls are all too common in the elderly population and should be taken seriously. Did you know that one in four older Americans falls every year? Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65 and older. As a person gets older, physical changes and health disorders, and sometimes the medications used to treat those disorders, make falls more likely. The top four risk factors for falls are: previous falls, decreased strength, gait/balance impairments and use of psychoactive medications.

Falls can result in hip fractures, cuts, and serious brain and head injuries. And even when there’s no serious injury, a fall can still be so startling and upsetting that elderly individuals may avoid certain activities because they’re afraid they’ll fall again. This can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle and physical atrophy, which leads to frailty, which further predisposes them to falls. It is an unhealthy cycle to be in.

The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented.  The key is to know where to look. Here are five valuable ideas to reduce the risk of a falling:

  1. Speak openly with a doctor about fall prevention. Be prepared to answer questions such as: “What medications are you taking?”- A doctor can review the medications for side effects such as dizziness or dehydration and interactions with each other that may increase a risk of falling. “Have you fallen before?”- Write down the details, including when, where and how the fall happened. Details such as these may help identify specific fall-prevention strategies. Certain eye and ear disorders may increase your risk of falls. Your doctor may evaluate your muscle strength, balance and walking style as well.
  2. Keep moving. Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. Consider activities such as walking, aqua aerobics or tai chi. These activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. If physical activity is avoided because of fear it will make a fall more likely, remember there are solutions. There are many carefully monitored exercise programs. Seeing a physical therapist is also a great option, they can create a custom exercise program aimed at improving balance, flexibility, muscle strength and gait. 
  3. Get a vision check-up. If glasses or contacts are needed for vision, make sure the prescription is current and up to date. A good thing to remember when using tint-changing lenses is that they can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings and homes. A simple strategy is to change glasses upon entry or stop until the lenses adjust.
  4. Take time to notice if there is already difficulty walking or arising from a chair. Signs such as holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else for balance can indicate that it might be time to see a physical therapist. A physical therapist might suggest specific exercises for balance and strength, or possibly a cane or walker. Guidance and education on walking aids and how to use them is extremely important. Poorly fit aids actually can increase the risk of falling.
  5. Create a safe living space. This doesn’t have to involve a complete house remodel. A home can be safe from falls with just a few basic changes. Here are some examples:    
  • Lighting: Inadequate lighting is a hazard. To create a home that’s more suitable for the elderly, install brighter light bulbs, particularly in stairways and narrow hallways. Ensure that lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night. 
  • Make it nonslip: Bathtubs and showers, as well as floors in kitchens, bathrooms and porches, can become extremely dangerous when wet. To prevent falls on slick surfaces, nonslip mats are extremely useful.
  • Stairs: Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.
  • Bathrooms: Install grab bars in the tub and shower and near the toilet. Make sure they’re installed where they will actually be used. To take it up a notch, consider using a shower chair and hand-held shower head.
  • Clean up clutter: The easiest method for preventing falls is to keep the home neat and tidy. It is important to remove all clutter, such as stacks of old newspapers and magazines, especially from hallways and staircases.

A physician once told me that the most important aspect of falls in the elderly population is; “Instead of just treating falls as they happen, the focus should be on what we can do to help older people avoid them in the first place.” These tips will greatly reduce the risk of falling. They are also a great way to stay mentally and physically healthy while preserving independence as long as possible.

For more information, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html

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