Fall prevention is a cornerstone of senior health and wellness.
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Many people, from statesmen to actors to clergy, have been credited with creating some version of this timeless adage.
We can attest to the statement’s veracity, especially as it applies to seniors.
One in four Americans 65+ falls each year (but most don’t mention it to their doctor). Over age 80, this figure jumps to one in two. And falling once doubles a senior’s chances of falling again.
The odds of a hip fracture are high. Even if the fall doesn’t result in physical injury, it carries a heavy penalty for future quality of life. According to the National Council on Aging:
- Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall;
- Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults;
- In 2015, the total cost of fall injuries was $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75 percent of these costs;
- The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages, and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.
In addition, once someone takes a tumble, even if they aren’t injured, it leads to a fear of falling again. This can cause a senior to limit physical activity, which creates a vicious cycle: less exercise translates to weakened muscles and more fragile bones, which lead to a greater risk of future falls.
Risk Factors for Falls
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors, including:
- Lower body weakness
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Difficulties with walking and balance
- Medications for conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as sedatives or antidepressants. Even some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can affect how steady a senior is on their feet.
- Vision problems
- Foot pain or poor footwear
- Home hazards such as uneven steps, throw rugs, or clutter.
Lower body weakness and poor balance become more serious risk factors the older we become. One man reported, “I have had to catch or steady my 98-year-old mother-in-law several times, and make it a point of staying close by when she is walking…even when she has a cane in her hand.
“Many older people feel they do not need to use their walkers in their own homes (or in their memory care communities), or they forget to use any aid and hold onto the walls or furniture, or reach up without support. That is when many falls occur.”
Stand for Something
Here are eight simple senior health and wellness suggestions for fall and fracture prevention:
- Review medications with your doctor or pharmacist to learn about any potential side effects that could lead to a fall. Blood pressure pills, heart medicines, and diuretics (water pills) may increase the risk of falling. Ask your doctor or other healthcare provider:
- To evaluate your risk for falling, and for specific steps you can take to minimize your risk.
- To review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. This should include both prescription medicines and OTC medicines.
- Whether vitamin D and/or calcium supplements might help build your bones and decrease your fall risk.
- Remove tripping hazards:
- Keep floors free of boxes, newspapers, books and clothing. Move or tape over electrical cords.
- Relocate coffee tables, magazine racks and plants stands so they are not directly in the path where the senior typically walks.
- Repair loose floorboards and tack down loose carpeting.
- Store dishes, medication and other necessities within easy reach so there is no need to stretch or climb on a footstool.
- Safety-proof your living space:
- Install handrails on both sides of stairwells. Be sure they are firmly fastened in place.
- Add grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower to improve stability on slick or wet surfaces. Place a rubber mat in the shower.
- Consider handrails for the bed.
- Invest in a raised toilet seat or one with armrests.
- Use skid-proof backing on all carpets and area rugs.
- Select sofas and chairs with arms for ease of getting up or sitting down.
- Let there be light: People in their 80s need four times the ambient light of those in their 20s due to reduced pupil responsiveness, decreased color vision and loss of peripheral vision, all of which occur naturally with age. Age-related changes in visual function have been implicated as a major contributing factor in the incidence of falls among the elderly.
- Place nightlights in bedroom, bathroom and hallways
- Have a lamp wit easy to reach on/off switch on the nightstand
- Make sure there are working flashlights with fresh batteries beside the bed and in other key locations where they might be needed.
- Get your eyes checked:
- An annual or bi-annual eye exam is essential.
- Update your eyewear prescriptions as needed.
- Bifocal or progressive lenses may actually make seeing more difficult for some people, because you are constantly tilting your head. If this is uncomfortable, a senior might be wise to get single-prescription lenses for distance and outdoor activities, such as walking, and a separate pair of reading glasses.
- Get moving. Strength and balance exercises are some of the best measures for fall prevention. The National Institute on Aging recommends 4 types of exercise to help seniors improve their fitness:
- Be “Sneaky”. Say so long to fancy footwear in favor of rubber-soled or nonslip shoes that are comfortable and sturdy. Sneakers are a great idea, and the kids will think you’re cool.
- Have your feet measured to ensure you’re wearing the right size.
- Avoid slick soles and high heels.
- Don’t walk around in socks or stockings, and make sure house slippers have non-skid soles.
- Have a bone mineral density (BMD) scan, which can help catch bone loss early. The most widely recognized BMD test is a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DXA test, which measures bone density at your hip and spine, and can tell you if you are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
Fall Prevention and Senior Living Communities
At Kensington Place, our environment is focused on exceptional care and comfort. Our staff provides constant monitoring and devoted attention to the health and wellbeing of all residents.
Our team will be there to keep your loved one safe. If you have specific questions about the safety measures our memory care community provides, give us a call today to learn more.