September 15, 2014 – Most older adults understand that the risk of falling increases as we age, but don’t believe that it will happen to them or that if they do fall, they won’t be hurt.Did you know that falls are the leading cause of injury for older adults, and that one-third of adults aged 65 and over falls every year? In Maryland alone in 2011, more than 500 older adults died from injuries sustained in a fall.
Those are pretty sobering statistics, but there are ways to recognize and reduce the risk. September 21 through 27 is Falls Prevention Awareness Week, and September 23 is Falls Prevention Awareness Day in Maryland, so now is a great time to examine the risk you or a loved one has for falling.
According to the National Council on Aging, there are five common factors that can lead to a fall:
- Balance. Do you or someone you know hold onto walls or furniture while walking, have trouble walking in general, or have difficulty rising from a chair? The loss of some coordination, flexibility and balance is normal as we age, making it easier to fall. A physical therapist may be able to help by improving balance, strength and gait through specific exercises. They may also suggest a cane or walker to aid with balance. Regular exercise can also improve balance and coordination, but be sure to check with a doctor first before beginning any type of exercise program.
- Vision. How long has it been since your last eye exam? Adults 65 and older should have their vision checked once per year, and should be sure that eye glasses have a current prescription. Changes in vision as we age can reduce our acuity, making some things harder to see and easier to trip over. Remember that bifocals can make navigating stairs a challenge, so be extra careful.
- Medications. Some medications can cause dizziness or have other side effects that can lead to a fall. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications, including over-the-counter medications. They can tell you which medicines, or combinations of medicines, can cause dizziness, drowsiness, or otherwise increase the risk of falling. Be especially careful with non–prescription pain medications that contain “PM” in the name – they often have a sleep aid that can affect balance. Be sure to review all medications with the doctor or pharmacist every time a new medication is introduced.
- Environment. Many older adults have lived in the same home for many years. Simple changes can make that home safer, such as:
- Removing items that are trip hazards in walking paths
- Removing throw rugs or using double-sided tape so they stay put
- Keeping often used items in an easily accessible cabinet or closet
- Installing grab bars next to the toilet and shower and in the bath tub
- Using non-slip mats in the bathtub and on the shower floor
- Improving the lighting in your home
- Using nightlights
- Installing handrails and lights on all staircases
- Wearing shoes inside and out for the best grip possible
- Chronic Conditions. More than 90% of all older adults have some type of chronic health condition, many of which require multiple medications or result in pain or other symptoms. The risk of a fall increases in these cases due to reduced mobility.
It is important that the person at risk for falling be aware of and acknowledge their risk, and be open to additional support. A candid conversation with a health care provider can pinpoint areas of high risk and they can suggest programs and services that may help reduce the risk.
There are many resources available to help. Below are some fall prevention resources to help as you begin to evaluate your fall risk.
Copyright © 2014 Lisa Albin