We all know an elderly person. It may be a parent, a grandparent, or even a friend. If you’ve known them for a long time, it can be easy to forget that as they get older there’s a higher chance of them falling and getting hurt.
As a caregiver, I’ve realized just how common falls in the elderly are. While young people recover quickly from bumps and bruises, elderly people don’t. Even a minor fall can lead to further problems, and that’s a scary thought!
Knowing how to stay safe is essential. If you keep reading, you’ll learn some preventative measures you can take to keep your loved one safe.
I’d like to share some statistics that may help you understand why this is such a large problem for our senior friends and family.
- 1 in 4 older people fall every year.
- Falling once increases the risk of falling again.
- Unintentional falls are the leading cause of ER visits across almost all ages.
- Falls are the leading cause of death in people 65 years and older.
Caregivers see the effects of falls in the elderly every day. Some are harmless and are nothing more than a fright. Others can have extremely serious consequences.
Falls Can Lead To…
Often, it’s not the actual fall that’s the biggest problem. It’s what comes as a result of the fall. Common problems after a tumble include:
- Broken bones.
- Head injuries.
- A decrease in daily activity.
- Less enjoyment of life.
- Loss of independence.
Why Does Falling Become A Bigger Problem With Age?
Accidental falls are a problem in young people too. But older people tend to fall more easily and more often. There are a few perfectly natural and explainable reasons for this:
Although many seniors wear glasses, their eyesight still deteriorates faster than younger folk. The glasses they got a year ago may not be working well for them now!
The simple fact that an elderly person can no longer see as well as they used to can be the cause of a fall. Tripping over things they don’t see or putting a foot wrong are things that caregivers see often.
Muscles Get Weaker
Unless your grandma is one of those buff, gym-going 70-somethings, it’s likely that her muscles are weakening with age. This means that normal things like:
- Walking a bit of a distance.
- Going up and down steps or slopes.
- Maneuvering through tight spaces
… become more difficult. A fall could be due to general muscle fatigue.
In my experience as a caregiver, I’ve realized something. Most seniors still see themselves as the young men and women they once were! The transition from fully physically capable to not being able to do the things they used to can be a difficult one. There’s often a certain amount of stubbornness involved.
Range of Motion Decreases
Along with muscle weakness comes a more limited range of motion. It becomes harder to lift your feet up properly, so trying to step over things could cause an accident. Reaching up to get something off a shelf may cause overbalancing, which leads to a tumble.
Arthritis could also play a role here. Imagine trying to grab a glass out of the cupboard without being able to open your hand properly! A dropped glass could lead to overbalancing, and things just go from there.
When an older person realizes that they’ve overbalanced, often their reflexes don’t catch up in time to prevent them from going down.
Situations in which a younger person would be able to steady themselves and prevent a full-on plummet often result in falls in the elderly.
Activity Level Decreases
One of the reasons muscles weaken and reflexes change is that elderly people tend to be much less active. Especially those who are under the watchful eye of caregivers!
Most seniors are not encouraged to get more active – rather, they’re more often told to relax and take it easy. There is merit to relaxing more as you get older! But some weight-bearing exercise is crucial to maintain muscle mass and bone strength. Without these, the chances of falls in the elderly increases quite a bit.
What Can Cause An Elderly Person To Fall?
Bad eyesight or muscle weakness could be the root cause of a fall, but they’re not usually the exact cause at the time.
As a caregiver, I’ve seen older people fall for many weird and inexplicable reasons! But some reasons are more common, and it’s usually one of these that is usually the culprit in a tumble.
Current Medical Conditions
Part of getting older is the decline of health. It’s natural (although not always easy to deal with). Things that can be the reason for falls in the elderly include:
- Low blood pressure.
- Low blood sugar.
- Cardiovascular problems.
- Bad circulation.
Another thing that comes with getting older is a potential increase in medication. Not everyone reacts that same way to medicines, so it’s important to understand side effects. When an elderly person begins a new medication, it’s possible they’ll have some unpleasant side effects.
Medications that cause dizziness or drowsiness could be the catalyst for a fall. Interactions with other medications could also pose a risk. If an elderly person is taking two medications that have “dizziness” as a side effect, they may build upon each other. This can become a serious fall hazard.
Many of the above reasons that a senior can fall are made worse by hazards in the elderly person’s home. You may be surprised just how many dangers are lurking! These can include:
- Wet floors, particularly in bathrooms.
- Bad lighting in a particular area.
- Carpets that are not secured to the ground.
- Items that are improperly placed in the house.
- Stairs or slopes.
- Items stored in cupboards.
A Simple Case of Overbalancing/Overexertion
Sometimes, there’s no external or environmental cause of falls in the elderly. It could simply be that your grandfather overestimated how far away his teacup was. Perhaps your elderly mother put her foot down half off the step and overbalanced.
How To Stay Safe: What You Can Do To Help
Now you have an idea of some of the usual gremlins that cause falls in the elderly. It’s time to take an active step forward in helping your elderly loved one to stay safe.
It’s essential to create a personalized safety plan. Not everything is going to be a fall hazard for everybody! You’ll need to do a bit of detective work and find out exactly what sort of things are a concern in your loved one’s life.
Here’s a simple 5-step plan to help your senior loved one stay safe:
- Assess their health.
- Examine their meds.
- Fall-proof their home.
- Incorporate some physical activity.
- Educate them about fall safety.
Assess Their Health
Has your mom been complaining of feeling lightheaded lately? Or maybe your elderly dad’s mentioned that he’s had a bit of a cold during the week. It’s a great idea to take your senior relative or friend for a general checkup. The doc can make sure their blood pressure, blood sugar, and other vitals are stable and strong.
If they’re given a clean bill of health, that’s fantastic. If the doctor finds something that needs to be addressed, you’ve caught the problem early! You can start treating it before it shows itself by causing a fall.
Examine their Meds
Have they started taking any news meds lately? What are the possible side effects of the meds they’re taking? Have a look at the inserts on whatever pills they’re taking and see if you can spot any potential problems.
It’s also a good idea to do a bit of a Q&A with your loved one to see if they have any particular symptoms at any specific time. If she feels dizzy every evening, is it corresponding with the time she takes her medication?
If there’s anything that poses a problem, it’s a good idea to ask the doctor for an alternative.
Fall-Proof Their Home
Take a walk through your senior family member’s home. Is there a carpet that’s flapping? A nail coming up out of the wooden flooring? Perhaps there’s a pile of junk on the floor that’s posing a tripping hazard.
Make a list of the risk factors that you find. Next, you’ll need to figure out how to fix them so they’re no longer hazards. Stick down the patch of carpet. Hammer the nail down again. Clean up the junk!
Some things you’ll be able to do as you’re on your walk-through, such as moving something to a safer spot. Other things you’ll need to check with your senior person first. They may not appreciate you moving their “pile of treasures” around!
Another huge help could be installing grab bars and railings where appropriate. It’s crucial that once you discover problems, you fix them as soon as possible. Falls in the elderly can happen in the blink of an eye.
Incorporate Some Physical Activity
One of the most noticeable things in the world of caregiving is the lack of physical activity in seniors. Physical activity is essential for keeping the body healthy.
For inactive seniors, it’s a smart idea to add some weight-bearing exercise to their daily routine. Even a short daily walk could be extremely beneficial. If you aren’t able to be there every day, talk to your senior’s caregiver! They can help add some exercise to their daily routine.
Educate Them About Fall Safety
Speak to your loved one! You’re allowed to worry about them. But they also need to know that there are hazards and how to stay as safe as possible in their home.
Explain how they can spot fall hazards themselves and keep their home safe. Let them know how important exercise is. Impress upon them that they should let you or their caregiver know if they’re having any health problems.
Another helpful action is to give them some sort of panic button or communication device that they can keep on their person. While the ultimate aim is to prevent falls, accidents do happen. If your loved one does fall, you don’t want them to lie there for hours before someone finds them.
Lastly… Get Their Caregiver Involved
It’s entirely possible that your loved one doesn’t have a caregiver. Perhaps they’re fairly independent! But if they’ve already fallen (and had some nasty after-effects from a fall), a caregiver can be a huge asset.
If they already have a caregiver, it’s a great idea to chat with them about your fall-proofing plans. An extra set of eyes on hazards and health conditions could go a long way.
After A Fall: What To Do
It’s never a nice thought, but one should know what to do when falls in the elderly become a reality for your family.
Remove The Hazard (And Other Possible Hazards)
This goes without saying! If your senior tripped over a flapping carpet, don’t leave the hazard as is. It only increases the potential for a second fall.
Get A Doctor’s Opinion (Even If They Don’t Want To!)
Even if they insist that they’re fine, a doctor. They may feel somewhat embarrassed and not want any more attention.
Be respectful, but insist on taking them for a checkup. Rather have the doctor find nothing than leave this step out! You don’t want to find out later that there was a broken bone or internal injuries.
Falls in the Elderly – Conclusion
Falls in the elderly are one of the most common health hazards in people over the age of 65. If one of your loved ones falls into this category, it’s best to start taking precautions now. Rather be safe, before the unthinkable happens and the person you love gets hurt!
Put some thought into making sure your elderly person is safe in their environment. It can make all the difference to their health and strength.