About thirty percent of people over the age of 65 will experience a fall each year. Some falls will be minor, but a significant percentage–up to a third–will lead to serious disability or death. The most common reasons for hospital admission after falls are hip fractures and head trauma, both of which can have serious consequences.
The risk for falls goes up directly with age, with a four-fold increase between the ages of 65 and 85. Women are statistically more likely to fall, and to have a fracture as a result of the fall than men. Despite this, men are more likely to suffer fatal falls and falls that lead to disability followed by death. Because the consequences of falling are potentially serious, prevention of falls is essential.
There are measures that can be taken by elderly citizens, their caretakers and their health care professionals to minimize the risk of falls and subsequent complications. Many elderly patients are reluctant to report falls or near-falls for a variety of factors. Perhaps they are saddened by the implied loss of function or independence. Many fear placement in a nursing home or other care situation that they consider to be undesirable.
There are steps that can be taken by each individual, the family and the physician to help prevent falls in the elderly.
Prevention of falls starts with controlling environmental risks.
- Inside the home, consider removing area rugs that can cause tripping.
- Make indoor pathways as clutter free as possible.
- In all areas, remove draping electrical cords from lamps and appliances.
- Handrails in showers and on stairs provide added stability.
- Outdoors, keep sidewalks and pathways clear of ice and snow in winter.
- Make sure hoses, plants, roots and sprinklers are not obstructing the sidewalks and paths during the rest of the year.
- Ensure adequate lighting inside and outside the residence.
Many older people visit more than one doctor. Often, both general practitioners and specialists prescribe medications to the same patient. Some medicines are more likely than others to increase the risk of falls. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, sleep aids, heart and blood pressure medications and steroids are among the best known of these. Make a list of all prescribed medicines for the primary medical doctor to review. Be sure to include all over the counter remedies, as well. Repeat this process every time a new medicine is added or removed from the list, or anytime new symptoms develop.
In addition to maintaining good overall health, proper nutrition and exercise can help prevent dangerous falls and strengthen bones to lower the risk of fracture when a fall does occur. Exercises that improve core and leg strength and balance will benefit the elderly most as far as fall prevention. Yoga, tai chi, and exercises with resistance bands have been recommended as excellent, low impact activities to achieve these goals.
A well balanced diet also helps prevent or minimize osteoporosis, reducing the severity of injury after a fall. In some cases, calcium or vitamin D may be recommended. For those at high risk of osteoporosis, specific medications for bone health may be prescribed after weighing the risks and benefits of doing so.
By working together, senior citizens, their loved ones and their medical caretakers can minimize the risk of falling. Attention to the immediate surroundings, diligence with medications and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle all contribute to the safety of the older population.
Our counselors and RNs at Partners in Healthcare are available to talk with you about your in-home care needs including how to reduce caregiver stress while providing better, affordable care. We are a senior care agency providing elder care serves in the Orlando area, 407-788-9393.
Hank Charpentier, BSB, MBA, MA, Certified Senior Adviser