Fall Prevention - Helping Those You Love Stay Safe
Injuries from falls are the main reason older adults lose their independence. Risk factors increase with age but many falls are preventable and taking basic preventative measures can reduce the risk of incurring fall-related injuries.
Nearly a third of adults over 65 suffer injuries from a fall each year and half of them fall more than once. In 2015, there were over three million emergency room visits by American over 65 for fall-related injuries. The risk of serious injury from falls increases in older demographics because underlying osteoporosis and decreased mobility and reflexes often lead to hip fractures and other significant injuries.
The good news is that most falls are preventable and occur at home. Decreasing your chances of suffering fall-related injuries can maintain your independence and avoid prolonged recovery periods.
Why Do People Fall?
A major reason people fall is due to a loss of balance and an inability to recover before falling. There are four categories of factors that contribute to falls.
- A combination of advanced age, decreased strength, mobility and balance, visual impairments, medical conditions and disability make people more prone to falling.
- Gait deviations characterized by changes in gait patterns of older adults, a significant reduction in gait velocity and stride length, increased stance width, and bent over posture, decrease your ability to maintain balance.
- Some factors, such as weakness, loss of mobility, and vision issues, can be can be prevented or addressed.
- A history of falls, fear of falling, inadequate nutrition or hydration, inadequate physical conditioning, unsafe clothing and footwear choices, medications and interactions, or a history of stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or dementia all contribute to falls.
Social and Economic Factors
- Access to resources, quality of housing, and personal assistance can help mitigate potential hazards as well as provide access to helpful medical professionals and relevant therapies.
- 50 to 60 percent of falls occur at home. Home hazards include excessive mess or clutter, lack of safety railings and handles, loose rugs, wet surfaces, tripping hazards, and inadequate lighting.
- Improve your balance, strength and mobility by participating in physical conditioning exercises. Age-appropriate classes are available through local providers.
- Participate in some form of daily physical activity, even if it’s just a short walk.
- Under a doctor’s care, ensure you have adequate levels of Vitamin D, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals that contribute to bone density and physical performance.
- Have your vision checked regularly and wear your glasses or contacts at all times to minimize the chance of tripping on unseen objects.
- Review your over-the-counter and prescription medications with your doctor to ensure they are not contributing to an increased risk of falling, especially if you are taking multiple medications.
- Reduce tripping and slipping hazards in your home and yard. Enlist the help of friends and family if necessary.
- Consider orthopedic interventions to ensure you aren’t neglecting a correctible issue with your gait or balance.
Intervention programs that proactively address fall-related risk factors may help reduce the incidence of falls.
Popular intervention programs include strength and balance training, resistance training, completing a home risk assessment, weaning off psychotropic medications that may affect balance, considering cardiac pacing for those with carotid sinus hypersensitivity, and participating in balance work such as tai chi.
You may benefit from a customized program to improve your physical fitness. After consultation with your doctor, working with a physical or occupational therapist or personal trainer may be an option.
For those at increased risk of falls, a medical alert system or voice activated phone can be a lifesaver after a fall occurs. Discussing these options with your doctor and loved ones can help prevent you from lying immobilized for extended periods of time without assistance should a fall occur.
Doctors and nurses commonly use the Morse Fall Scale to assess one’s likelihood of falling. If you are unsure of your risk of falling and would like a professional assessment, this tool provides a quick and easy way to better understand your risk.
Fall prevention awareness is an important part of a self-care program. By adopting a proactive mindset prior to any incidents you can reduce falls and increase your ability to live independently.