UNDERSTANDING AND PREVENTING FALLS IN AGING SENIORS
The statistics can be frightening: 1 in 4 older Americans falls every year and falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+.
Medical reports show that falls can frequently result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. Even if a fall does not result in a major injury, they can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active and enjoy social activities.
Some alarming statistics about falls:
- Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall
- Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall
- Falls result in injuries, such as hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries
- More than 2.8 million older adults are treated in emergency departments annually because of a fall, resulting in over 800,000 hospitalizations
The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented. The key is education and some small modifications to the living environment. Many caregivers look for ways to protect the ones they love and reverse these statistics by decreasing the risk in their homes.
Here are five key areas you need to be aware of to help your senior loved one avoid a fall:
Balance and Strength
Many people think falling simply comes with advanced age. The truth is, older adults can improve balance and strength. Balance and gait are the most common cause of falls as most of us lose some coordination, flexibility, and balance—primarily through inactivity. Osteoporosis is also a factor in fall frequency and severity. Your medical professional may suggest a Vitamin D supplement and a trained physical therapist can help your older loved one improve their balance, strength, and gait through exercise and moderate weight training. They might also suggest a cane or walker—and provide guidance on how to use these aids.
Hearing and Vision
An additional common cause of loss of balance is vision impairment. In the aging eye, less light reaches the retina making contrasting edges, tripping hazards, and obstacles harder to see. New research suggests hearing loss can also contribute to the risk of falling. Both of these issues should be monitored at least annually if not twice per year by a trained medical professional to ensure that your senior’s senses are as sharp as possible. Of course, eyeglasses and hearing aids can offer improvement in these areas. If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure their prescription is current and they are using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor. Remember that using tint-changing lenses 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 their lenses adjust. Bifocals also can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious. Those who are already struggling with low vision should consult with a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of their eyesight.
Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall. Be sure to review the warnings on each prescription and discuss any concerns with your medical professional. If the medication has been revised or has changed in dosage, try to monitor any presenting side effects for a few weeks before proceeding with their lifestyle as normal.
Environment is of course an important area to survey in detail and modify as needed. Most seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and might take for granted a hazardous area rug with a curled up corner or a few boxes on the floor in the laundry room. Do a walk-through safety assessment of their home. There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer. Toilet rails, shower chairs and bathroom grab-bars are all simple installations or additions that can improve your loved one’s confidence in getting around safely. For professional assistance, consult an occupational therapist.
More than 90% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, stroke, or arthritis. Often, these increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or multiple medications. If your loved one suffers from one or more of these conditions, they may benefit from closer monitoring or if they are not living with you, an emergency call system or more visits during the day.
The National Council on Aging, U.S. Administration on Aging, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control also promote a variety of community-based programs that can help older adults learn how to reduce their risk of falling. Contact your Area Agency on Aging (AAA) at www.eldercare.gov to find out what’s available in your area.
For more ideas on how to make the home safer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a home assessment checklist in multiple languages. Visit www.cdc.gov and search “falls checklist” to download a copy. To learn more about falls prevention and how you can decrease your loved one’s personal risks, please visit www.ncoa.org/FallsPrevention.
If your loved one has suffered from a fall and needs increased care to live safely, Oasis Senior Advisors is here to help. We specialize in matching seniors to communities that meet their wants and needs. Give us a call at 888-455-5838 for a free, no-obligation consultation.