Most falls are preventable – plain and simple. They are not a part of healthy aging and we shouldn’t anticipate that they are inevitable.
Despite the fact that there are many strategies that senior adults can employ to prevent falls, older adults visit their local emergency rooms for treatment of a fall related injury every 13 seconds!
In 2013 some 25,000 seniors died from unintentional fall injuries. An older adult dies from a fall every 20 minutes!
95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. It has been found that 1/4 of seniors who fracture a hip from a fall will die within six months of the injury.
Falls also cause the majority of all traumatic brain injuries for seniors.
What many caregivers don’t realize is that our senior loved ones are fearful of falling, which causes them to limit their activity. The downside to that is losing muscle strength, which in turn leads to falls. It can be a vicious cycle leading to immobility and lack of independence.
Falling, even the fear of falling, can result in a facility placement and the loss of the dream for aging in place.
Did we say that most falls are preventable?
Steps to Prevent Falls
By doing a few simple things that will make our seniors healthier, they will be preventing falls.
It may not be possible to completely prevent falls, but we should expect to reduce the number and severity of falls by accomplishing these strategies.
These things need to become a regular part of your senior loved one’s routine not a once in a blue moon occurrence.
- Become physically active – remember that even taking a nice walk once in a while provides real benefits.
- Participate in strength training activities that will build muscle and strengthen bone
- Improve balance through specific balance activities; there are balance programs that can be found through the Area Agency on Aging
- Get your hearing and vision checked regularly to avoid tripping over things you can no longer see as well
- Improve your environment by trip proofing your home. Be sure there is no clutter, loose flooring, throw rugs, electric cords, small pets, or other sources of trips. Install adequate lighting to see clearly even during the day. Install grab bars and hand rails in key areas to support walking and transferring. For more, check out our Home Seniorization Checklist.
- Eat a healthy diet with adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D and protein.
- Have your medications reviewed for any that might be leading to falls as some drugs have side effects that increase your senior’s risk for falling
- Check your bone density to ensure your bones are as strong as they should be and start treatment to build bone as prescribed by your doctor
- Ask your doctor to complete a falls risk assessment on your senior loved one and connect you with pertinent resources to reduce your senior’s risk for falls such as therapy, exercise programs or other programs.
- Manage your chronic disease conditions that could lead to lack of mobility, dizziness or inactivity.
- Wear proper footwear at home and away from home in addition to using prescribed and fitted mobility aides such as canes and walkers.
For more, we thought you might find this video from the National Council on Aging to be helpful.
Are These Barriers to Physical Activity?
Oftentimes people who are not exercising as they know they should tell us that there are good reasons (not excuses) that they are not participating in more physical activities. There are valid reasons for not doing so.
Barriers are obstacles that have not yet been overcome. We can overcome most of the obstacles that keep our senior loved ones from participating in physical activity.
Reasons many seniors don’t get physical:
- No safe place to walk whether from fear of crime or unsafe walking paths
- Weather – too hot, cold, rainy, snowy, icy, humid
- Can’t afford a gym membership
- Don’t want to go alone
- Can’t access transportation
- Don’t know enough about where to go or what to do
- Lack of clean restrooms when bladder or bowel issues strike
- Fear of injury
There are activities and programs that can help overcome these barriers.
- Mall walking – it is temperature controlled, others are around, the walkways are safe, there are people there to monitor and support your activities, little or no cost, and there are clean accessible bathrooms. Many malls have walking clubs that meet on a regular basis.
- Senior center – wide range of programs offered, friendship from peers, group leader trained in safety, climate controlled, transportation often available and little or no cost.
- Neighborhood or government sponsored classes – many locations have classes or groups for seniors, including tai chi, dancing, Silver Sneakers, water aerobics, walking trails and other activities. These are little to no cost and supervised by personnel.
- In-home activities – videos/DVDs that can offer wheelchair exercises, yoga or dancing to the music. Weight training using small weights or other objects found in the home. Play exercise video games such as Wii Golf or Tennis.
- Local health fairs – no cost to the participant events sponsored by hospital systems or other agencies. They screen for falls, balance, blood pressure, vision, and teach nutrition, medication management as well as offering massages.
The goal of fall prevention strategies is to reduce the modifiable risk factors and strengthen senior loved ones’ bones and muscles so that if there is a fall it is more likely the damage will be minimal.
Fall prevention programs will result in not only reducing the number of falls but also improving fitness, social engagement and overall health. Being actively involved on a daily basis will also help our seniors’ mental outcome, reduce isolation and depression.
The bottom line becomes increased quality of life for our senior loved ones.
Isn’t that what we want for them?