Falls Change Many Seniors’ Lives – Improving Their Balance Can Help

Does your senior loved one fear falling? Do you fear what a fall could do to them?

Many seniors fear taking a spill, especially if they have taken a serious fall in the past. They know that the danger of losing their balance could mean a broken bone and even a change in their aging in place dream.

The statistics for falls are indisputable — and daunting.

Did you know that every 15 seconds an older adult is seen in an emergency room for a fall-related injury? Worse yet, it is estimated that 21,700 die from falls annually.

Causes of Falls as We Age

There can be many reasons why people fall, especially as we age. Medical condition, functional status and environmental factors all play a role in the potential for falls in seniors, whether they are at home or in a senior living facility.

  • Weakening muscles. As we age, we often lose muscle mass because our eating habits have changed. Our senior loved ones can experience a decrease in the nutritional value of the foods they eat. Perhaps they can’t (or choose not to) cook for themselves, can’t shop or don’t feel they can afford more substantial foods. Seniors also lack adequate levels of physical activity which can lead to a common condition known as sarcopenia or muscle wasting. When our strong muscles become weak, it is more difficult to keep our balance. Loss of balance will lead to falls and injuries.
  • Medications can cause periods of unsteadiness and even dizziness, which could lead to a fall, especially for our senior loved ones who take multiple medications. Because certain medications can make one dizzy, including blood pressure medications, your senior should be careful when standing up from a sitting position if a wobbly feeling results from a rapid change in blood pressure. Shifting incorrectly from one position to another is a leading cause of falls. You can have the list of medications your senior takes each day reviewed by the doctor or pharmacist to see if there may be areas of concern or changes needed in dosage, timing or types of medications they are taking.
  • Dehydration can also lead to falls. When our seniors don’t drink enough fluids they can become confused and light headed and their tissues weakened, too often leading to falls. Many seniors don’t sense thirst as they once did and don’t realize they aren’t drinking enough fluids. They could be purposely cutting down on drinking so that they can have fewer bathroom visits which could compromise their health. They may need reminders to keep drinking enough throughout the day as well as convenient access to fluids.
  • Poor eyesight. If our seniors can’t see where they are going, if there are obstacles or hazards or darkness in their path, they are more likely to fall. If they need an eye exam or updated glasses – or even just a good cleaning of their current glasses – it could help prevent a fall. Also, be sure that all areas have adequate lighting in the house, including stairways, hallways, closets, outside walks and basements. Lighting the way, either daytime or nighttime, will help prevent a fall.
  • Ill-fitting shoes or shoes that have a worn out sole could contribute to a fall. If their shoes have no traction or don’t fit well, getting a new pair that provide good support and a nonskid sole could really help. Also, encourage them not to live in their ‘old slippers’ that could hamper their ability to have sure feet. Proper fitting shoes can provide more than comfort but safety too.
  • Low blood sugar can cause unsteadiness, leading to falls. Testing blood sugar as recommended and following a diabetic diet can help your senior manage their blood sugar to avoid falls. Avoiding frequent ups and downs in blood sugar level through tight glucose control may also help to prevent a fall.
  • Obstacles in the home can also contribute to falls happening to our seniors (and even us too). Clutter, loose throw rugs, wet floors, electric cords in the walking path and even pets can get in seniors’ way and cause a trip and fall. Inspect their home for potential hazards and eliminate them.
  • Getting enough sleep and moderating your senior’s alcohol intake can also prevent potential falls. Being refreshed and clear thinking is important to maintaining balance and preventing injuries.

There is enough research and experience to show that there are many things that we can do as caregivers to help prevent falls from occurring. Some are relatively easy to do and others just need regular reminders.

Physical Activity for Fall Prevention

Your senior loved one can also reduce the likelihood of having a fall – and improve the chances of remaining injury free if they do have a fall – if they stay physically active and maintain strong muscles.

We created this video to demonstrate a few balance exercises most seniors can do. You can practice along with them and encourage them to consistently complete these simple exercises. Remain safe is the key, so begin slowly using a chair to lean on until your senior loved one gains strength.

Balance is something that needs regular practice so these quick exercises should become part of their daily routine not something that happens a few times expecting it to benefit them over the long term.

The exercises are done in 10 second blocks so are not time consuming and can be done anywhere in the home or facility.

We hope you enjoy this caregiver video tip.

These balance exercises are just the beginning. You can do a variety of different types of balance exercises as your senior gains strength. The more they do, the stronger they will be. Add a little music to keep the enjoyment flowing!

These exercises may help them begin to feel more stable on their feet and give them the encouragement they need to do even more activity! That’s a win-win for sure!

We feel strongly that being fearful of a fall should not keep your senior from living their life to the fullest. Falls can be prevented with a little planning and patience. Doing the exercises shown in the video consistently will help your senior gain strength and improve mobility to prevent dangerous trips and falls and hopefully injury.

“Injuries from falls are a major cause of loss of independence for older people. This is a significant public health problem.”

—Dr. Richard J. Hodes, Director, National Institute on Aging