Tips and Advice for Older Adults and Their Families
While fall prevention may not be top of mind for many older adults, it’s a vitally important topic. In fact, falls are a leading cause of injury among seniors. The reasons are easy to understand: as you get older, physical changes and health conditions – sometimes including the medications used to treat those conditions – make falls more likely.
Are you or someone you love at risk of falling? This article will identify some common risk factors and causes of falls, and offer a few simple strategies to help you stay safe, secure and independent.
Assessing Risk Factors
Falls don’t just happen. Often, one or more underlying causes or risk factors are involved, including medical conditions, physical activity, weather or home safety hazards. Here are some common factors that may lead to an increased risk of falling:
- Medical Issues
- Impaired vision or hearing
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of bowel/bladder control
- Stroke, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart and/or lung disease
- Balance problems
- Numbness/pain in hands and feet
- Prescription and over-the-counter medication side effects and interactions
A Message for Caregivers
Despite the high rate of falls among older adults, these events often go unreported by the senior and unrecognized by the family caregiver unless he or she receives hospital or emergency room care. In fact, results of one Medicare Beneficiaries Survey indicated that fewer than half of the respondents reported that they did not tell their doctor about a fall the previous year. Whether due to embarrassment or simple forgetfulness, failure to report even a minor fall can be a real problem since it may signal a loss of balance or other potentially dangerous condition. Armed with this information, caregivers need to be alert to signs of injury that may be fall-related. For example:
- A change in walking speed, stability or gait
- Redness or swelling of a joint
- Bruising and abrasions
- Complaints of pain, dizziness, vertigo, unsteadiness or loss of balance
- “Favoring” the use or protecting certain parts of the body where injuries may have occurred .
If you think a fall may have taken place it is important to let your loved one know about your concerns and offer support.
Effective Fall Prevention Strategies
Your first line of defense: your physician
The best way to begin your fall prevention plan is by making an appointment with your doctor. He or she will want to evaluate your concerns, medical condition and lifestyle, for example:
The medications you are taking.
Your doctor can review your medications for side effects and interactions that may increase your risk of falling. You should also use the same pharmacy to fill all of your prescriptions.
Your history of falls.
If you fell, be prepared to provide details, including when, where and how the fall occurred. Also, discuss instances when you almost fell but managed to grab hold of someone or something just in time.
Contributing health conditions.
Do you feel any dizziness, joint pain, numbness or shortness of breath? Your doctor will determine if certain health conditions may be affecting your muscle strength, mobility, balance and gait.
What to Do After a Fall
If you should suffer a fall, don’t panic. Follow these simple steps and precautions:
- Remain still in order to get over the initial shock of falling.
- Try to determine if you are seriously hurt before you attempt to get up.
- Sitting up or standing too quickly could make an injury worse. Go slow.
- If you are injured, ask for help or call 911.
- If you are alone, use your emergency assistance device or cell phone.
Fall Facts and Myths
Myth: Falls happen to other people, not to me.
Fact: One in three older adults, about 12 million in the US, fall every year.
Myth: Falls are a normal part of aging.
Fact: Falls are not normal. Many steps can be taken to help prevent falls.
Myth: If I limit my physical activity, I won’t fall.
Fact: Strength, balance and range of motion improve significantly by staying active.
Myth: Using a cane or walker will make me more dependent.
Fact: A properly fitted walking aid may improve confidence, mobility and stability.
Myth: Staying home will reduce my chances of falling.
Fact: More falls occur at home than anywhere else. Take steps to remove potential hazards and make your environment “fall safe.”
Myth: A “healthy” fear of falling can be a good thing.
Fact: Because it can lead to inactivity and reluctance to perform even routine daily living tasks, fear is more likely to result in limiting mobility, undermining confidence and weakening muscles. That, in turn, can make the risk of falling even greater.
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