Did you know that falling in elders is a big problem? Up to 35% of people aged 65 years and over fall each year; many individuals suffer multiple falls. Worse yet, falls are responsible for up to 15% of all emergency room visits (sprains, dislocations, broken bones, head injuries, etc.) and a leading cause of hospital admissions in elders (exceeding that of stroke, disease and dementia).
Why Do Falls Happen?
Contrary to public opinion, falls just don’t happen because people are clumsy. Falls are caused by many factors:
- Some falls are due to slow reflexes, unstable balance, low blood pressure, memory problems, poor vision, effects of medications, etc.
- Other causes are external, such as environmental hazards in the home interfering with safe mobility.
- Lastly, situational causes (hurrying, not using a cane, etc.) can lead to balance problems.
What Does Falling Indicate?
Falling can be:
- A marker of poor health and declining function.
- An indication of an acute illnesses, such as pneumonia, a bladder infection or heart attack.
- An early symptom of a chronic disease, such as diabetes, arthritis, parkinson’s, etc., that is getting worse.
The bottom line: there are many reasons why elders fall, but ultimately a fall is a sign that something is wrong, which needs to be addressed or else the likelihood of falling again and again remains.
So, What’s the Best Way to Avoid Falls?
Step 1: Is there a problem?
- Any recent falls in the past 3 months (including slips and trips)?
- Any worries (or fears) about falling?
- Any changes in walking and balance?
- Any changes in mobility (the ability to get up and down safely from chairs, toilets, bed, etc.)?
Step 2: Schedule a visit with a physician.
- Elders with one or more falls and/or difficulties with balance need to schedule a doctor’s visit.
- The doctor will evaluate the root cause (s) of the elder’s problems and recommend a plan of action to avoid future falls.
Step 3: Implement a plan to avoid falls.
Any good strategy to avoid falling includes:
- Leading a sedentary and inactive lifestyle weakens the body and makes falling more likely due to poor muscle strength, loss of bone strength, and loss of balance/flexibility.
- Balance and strength training are very effective in reducing falls. Working to build muscle, stamina and balance can go a long way to keep elders on their feet and off their tush.
Up to half of all falls occur in the home. Important areas to support the elder’s balance and mobility include:
- Add shower/bathtub grab bars, nonslip flooring (both inside and outside the bathtub/shower), and grab bars by the toilet.
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairs (fix loose handrails).
- Keep stairs clear of any objects.
- Repair broken treads, lose or torn carpet and other coverings.
- Install good lighting in the bathroom (and along the pathway from the bed to the toilet), and on stairs/steps (especially at the top/bottom steps).
Step 4: Tips for family and caregivers.
Family members caring for frail individuals with multiple health problems and medications play a crucial role in fall prevention. They need to:
- Become knowledgeable about the elder’s health conditions (its symptoms and treatments); including how to avoid falls.
- Monitor the elder’s health condition (s) (both physical and mental) and safety needs on a daily basis.
- Manage medications (making sure that all drugs are taken as prescribed and up-to-date).
- Coordinate doctor visits and communicating between doctors (often among several physician specialists).
- Report other health problems that may add to the severity of fall risk:
- Taking any drugs for anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s, or sleep?
- Any anxiety, depression, poor judgment, disorientation, memory problems?
- Any difficulty seeing objects /finding their way around?
We want to hear from you! Do you have any tips or stories about how falls have affected you or a loved one? Share them below in the comments section.