One in four Americans aged 65 or over falls each year, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Falls are not only one of the most common causes of injuries and death in older adults, but also reduce a person’s ability to live independently. Fall prevention is an important topic that many aging Americans overlook. But, what is fall prevention exactly? In this article, we explore what fall prevention is, the factors that can increase the risk of falling for the elderly, and what you can do to help protect your loved one from falls.
Factors that Increase Fall Risk
Fall prevention is exactly what it sounds like: the act of taking certain precautions to reduce the likelihood of fall-related accidents. However, before we take a look at ways to minimize and prevent falls, we first need to understand the factors that may contribute to an increased likelihood of falling. Consider the following factors below and consider whether your loved one is at greater risk of falling:
1. Past Falls
A history of falling can signal mobility or balance problems in an elderly adult. If you know that your loved one has fallen in the past, it is important to take the necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of fall incidents in the future.
2. Balance Issues
Gait and balance disorders are some of the leading causes of falls in the elderly. While balance issues may be related to orthostatic hypotension and arthritis, these disorders can have multiple contributing factors. Because changes in gait and balance are common with aging, older adults may need extra support when walking to prevent injuries.
3. Decreased Strength
General weakness or a reduction in strength can increase a person’s risk of falling. Muscles change with age and a loss of muscle tissue (atrophy) is often seen in older adults. Muscles may also become rigid and lose tone, making walking more difficult.
4. Poor Vision
The ability to see clearly plays a major role in mobility. When a person’s sight is affected, they may have difficulty seeing obstacles in their way, increasing their risk of falls.
5. Memory Problems
Memory or problems with thinking can indirectly increase a person’s fall rate. Cognitive impairment can affect postural stability, a complex skill that is dependent on the coordination of sensory and motor system for proper body movement and control.
Some elderly individuals may experience dizziness or lightheadedness which increases their risk of fall accidents. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is the most common form of vestibular dysfunction in older adults, followed by Meniere’s disease. Dizziness can also occur from standing up too long or as a side effect of certain medications.
7. Foot Problems
The elderly are at risk for a variety of foot problems that can affect mobility and increase fall risk. Age-related fat pad atrophy, claw and mallet toe, arthritis, Morton’s neuroma, and bony deformities such as hallux valgus can make it difficult to perform daily tasks.
Reducing the Probability of Falls
While most people experience a fall at one time or another, the elderly are particularly at risk for serious injuries resulting from fall accidents. Head injuries, broken bones, and fractures are more common in older adults following a fall as the elderly tend to have weaker bones and are more susceptible to injury. The elderly are also more likely to die from a fall than a younger person.
If you are concerned about your loved one’s fall risk, start by speaking to a healthcare professional about your concerns. Oftentimes, a person will have underlying factors that could contribute to their likelihood of falling, such as a balance disorder or cognitive impairment. A healthcare professional can perform a thorough examination to determine if any unknown health problems exist. If any health problems are found, a treatment plan can be established to control the condition and any associated symptoms.
Engaging in regular exercise is also important for maintaining body strength, improving mobility, and reducing fall risk. Encourage your loved one to join fitness classes such as yoga or Tai Chi. Swimming can also be an effective sport that works out the body without putting too much pressure on the joints. Even brief walks a couple of times a day can improve flexibility and balance. However, elderly adults should avoid exercising alone and should have a support partner as a safety precaution.
Take the time to perform a walk-through of your loved one’s home to assess it for safety. There are countless easy and inexpensive ways to make a home safer and more accessible for older adults with mobility or balance problems. Start by increasing the lighting throughout the home, especially around areas like stairs. Lighting should also be within reach of the bed in case the person has to get up in the middle of the night. On the stairs, install secure railings for extra support. Also, install grab bars near the toilet and inside the bathtub or shower. A shower chair can also be a great addition.
Other precautions you can take to prevent falls include:
- Move furniture out of the way and use double-sided tape to secure rugs to the floor.
- Review your loved one’s medications with their doctor and ask about reducing or changing certain drugs to avoid side effects like dizziness.
- Keep items off the floor and stairs to prevent tripping.
- Upgrade to a walk-in bathtub that makes it easy to enter and exit.
- Place non-slip mats inside the shower or tub to prevent slips.;li>
- Have your loved one visit an eye doctor on a regular basis.
- Use night lights in the bedroom, bathroom, hallway, and other areas that may be used at night.
Seeking Professional Assistance
It is normal to be concerned about your aging loved one, especially if he or she has suffered falls in the past. Fortunately, all of the responsibility does not have to rest on your shoulders. With help from a senior healthcare professional, you can maintain peace of mind knowing that your loved one is being cared for and that their surroundings are free from hazards that could result in a fall injury. For more information about fall prevention services, contact the in-home care professionals at Comfort Home Care.