I picked up the phone and heard my friend Sam frantically utter, “How do I keep my Mom from falling? This is her 4th fall this month. I can’t keep up!”
Each year, 3 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. These falls can lead to serious injuries, including broken bones and head injuries, which can decrease an older adult’s mobility and independence.
In this article, we will discuss ways to decrease the risk of falling among seniors by 30-50%. Stay safe and independent longer by following these tips!
What is a fall and why do they happen to seniors more often than other age groups?
A fall is defined as a sudden, unintentional change in position causing an individual to land at a lower level, the floor, or the ground, other than as a result of a collision, epileptic seizure, or overwhelming external force.
Falls can happen to people of all ages, but seniors are at a higher risk for falls for a variety of reasons. As we age, our risk of falling increases due to changes in our vision, balance, muscle strength, and weakening or decline in our bodily systems and functions.
Additionally, many seniors take medications that can cause dizziness or drowsiness, further increasing their risk of falling.
Some health conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and painful joint conditions like arthritis, can also lead to falls.
Because falling can result in serious injuries, seniors need to be aware of the risk factors and take steps to prevent falls.
What are the risk factors for falling among seniors?
There are many risk factors for falling among seniors but they can be all classified under two distinct categories:
- Intrinsic risk factors – Intrinsic (or internal) causes of falls include poor vision, deteriorating vestibular system, poor posture, reduced physical activity, presence of multiple medical conditions, and cognitive or psychological reasons.
As its name implies, intrinsic or internal factors are found within the person and are often relatively more difficult to modify.
- Extrinsic risk factors – Extrinsic (or external) causes of falls include environmental hazards, medications, visual and environmental conditions, and even poor footwear.
In contrast, extrinsic or external factors are found outside of the person and are often easily changed or corrected.
What steps can you take to decrease the risk of falling among seniors by 30-50%?
Studies found that extrinsic risk factors account for 30%-50% of falls.
Here’s an example of extrinsic risk factors commonly found at home:
- Loose rugs and slippery floors
- Uneven or cracked walkways
- Cluttered toys, magazines, and electric wires on the floor
- Low-lying furniture that obstructs traffic
- No grab bars in wet areas, e.g. bathroom, shower, etc.
- Poorly-lit hallways, rooms, bathrooms
- Ill-fitting footwear or assistive devices, e.g. walker, cane, etc.
- Multiple medications or medications that cause dizziness, confusion, or unsteadiness.
By addressing these extrinsic risk items, you will be able to eliminate 30%-50% of your risk of falling!
How can family members and caregivers help prevent falls among elderly loved ones?
There are several things that family members and caregivers can do to decrease the risk of falling among seniors.
One of the most important is to help identify and address any potential risk factors.
This might include removing trip hazards from the home, helping to improve balance and coordination, and providing assistance with activities that require standing or walking.
It is also important to encourage elderly loved ones to stay active and engaged, as this can help to reduce the risk of falls.
Finally, family members and caregivers should be alert for any signs or symptoms that might indicate an increased risk of falling, such as dizziness, unsteadiness, or confusion.
By taking these steps, they can help to ensure that their elderly loved ones stay safe and avoid falls.
What to do next?
I created a resource guide as a companion to my book, The Book of Balance, and shared it with my friend Sam.
Sam put the guide into good use right away. She checked off the list of extrinsic risk factors at home, cleaned up the clutter and trip hazards, installed grab bars and adequate lighting, and consulted her mother’s physician to review her medications.
Several months later I received another call from Sam. This time the call was a heartwarming one.
Sam reported that since she implemented the strategies she learned from the resource guide, her mother has not had a fall in over two months!
You too can decrease the risk of falling among seniors by 30-50% just by addressing the extrinsic risk factors for falling.
‘Til then, stay healthy and live fully!
Dr. Lex Gonzales, PT, DPT is an author and speaker who has been a physical/physiotherapist for over 24 years. On drlexgonzales.com he provides quality information and practical solutions you can use to improve your health and function.