The Fall Prevention Guide for Seniors

Edited by Rory Clark

September is fall prevention month. According to The National Council on Aging, around one-third of older adults who live at home fall at least once a year, while approximately half of those in nursing homes fall. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. It is the seventh leading cause of death for people over 65. 

Fall Prevention Avoids Complications

After a fall, a person is more likely to fall again. Falls frequently result in injuries. Specific injuries, such as a broken hip, can be life-threatening. Because many older adults have porous, fragile bones, they are more likely to break bones in falls (osteoporosis). Specific fall-related injuries are fatal.

Many senior citizens fear falling. Fear of falling can create complications. Individuals may experience anxiety when performing routine activities, resulting in a loss of self-confidence and even independence. Seniors can take various measures to help them overcome their fears and reduce their risk of falling. Understanding what causes falls can be beneficial.

Falls and Their Causes

Falls can occur due to physical conditions impairing mobility or balance. Environmental hazards, or potentially hazardous situations. Most falls happen when several causes interact. For example, people with Parkinson’s disease and impaired vision (physical conditions) may trip on an extension cord (an environmental hazard) while rushing to answer the telephone (a potentially hazardous situation).

Aging, physical fitness, pre-existing disorders, and drug use all affect a person’s physical condition. Physical health is likely to impact falling risk than environmental hazards and hazardous situations significantly. Not only does poor or impaired physical health increase the risk of falling, but it also affects how people respond to threats and dangerous situations.

Among the physical impairments that increase one’s risk of falling are those that involve

  • Balance or walking
  • Vision
  • Sensation, particularly in the feet
  • Muscle strength
  • Cognition
  • Blood pressure or heartbeat

The use of drugs that impair attention or lower blood pressure (antihypertensive, diuretic, and certain heart medications, for example) can also increase the risk of falling. Environmental hazards cause numerous falls. Falls occur when people overlook a danger or do not react quickly once a threat is identified. Environmental hazards that contribute to the risk of falling include the following:

  • Inadequate lighting
  • Throw Rugs
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Electrical or extension cords or other objects that obstruct walking
  • Inconsistent sidewalks and deteriorated curbs
  • Unfamiliarity with the environment

The majority of falls occur indoors. Certain events occur while people are standing still. The majority occur while people are in or out of bed, walking, or ascending or descending. While moving, individuals may stumble or trip, or their balance may be compromised. Any movement has the potential to be dangerous. However, when people are hurried or distracted, movement becomes even more hazardous.

Symptoms of a Fall

Often, individuals have no symptoms before falling. There is little or no warning when a fall is caused by an environmental hazard or a hazardous situation. However, if a fall is caused in part or entirely by a person’s physical condition, symptoms may manifest before the fall. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Heartbeats that are irregular or rapid, pounding (palpitations)

Injuries are common following a fall and tend to be more severe as people age. More than half of all falls result in some form of injury, such as a bruise, sprained ligament, or strained muscle. Broken bones, torn ligaments, deep cuts, and damage to organs like the kidneys or liver are more severe injuries. Around 2% of falls result in hip fractures. In approximately 5% of falls, other bones (in the upper arm, wrist, and pelvis) are broken. Certain falls result in a loss of consciousness or a concussion.

Falls can exacerbate problems even further if people are unable to rise immediately or summon assistance. This type of situation can be frightening and leave individuals feeling helpless. Remaining on the floor for an extended period of time, even a few hours, can result in complications such as

  • Dehydration
  • Body temperature is too low (hypothermia )
  • Pneumonia

A fall’s effects can last a long time. Around half of the people who could walk before falling and breaking a hip are unable to walk as well following treatment and rehabilitation. Individuals who have fallen may develop a fear of falling, which saps their confidence.

As a result, they may choose to remain at home and forego activities such as shopping, visiting friends, and housework. When people become less active, their joints and muscles can become stiff and weak. Stiff joints and weak muscles can increase the risk of falling and make it more difficult to remain active and independent. Falls appear to be a significant factor in many people’s decision to move to a nursing home or assisted living facility. For all of these reasons, falls can significantly negatively impact one’s quality of life.

The Fall Prevention To Do List

Older people can do many simple, practical things to help reduce their risk of falling.

  • Regular exercise: Weight training or resistance training can help strengthen weak legs and thus improve walking stability. Balance can be improved through Tai Chi and balancing activities such as standing on one leg. Exercise programs should be tailored to the individual’s requirements. Many senior citizen centers, YMCAs, and other health clubs offer free or low-cost senior citizen group exercise classes.
  • Wearing the right shoes: Firm, nonslip soles, some ankle support, and flat heels are the best.
  • Standing slowly after sitting or lying down and pausing for a moment before moving can help prevent dizziness by allowing the body to adjust to the change in position.
  • People can ask their doctor or another health care provider to review all prescription and nonprescription drugs they are taking to see if any of them are increasing their risk of falling. If such medications are being used, doctors may reduce the dose or advise patients to stop taking them.

Having your vision checked regularly can help you avoid falling. Getting the right glasses and wearing them can help you avoid falling. Treatment for glaucoma or cataracts, which cause vision loss, may also be beneficial.

Injuries are a common cause of falls for the elderly. The elderly should be cautious about their surroundings and take proactive steps to avoid injuries like wearing nonslip shoes, using a walking stick or a cane when necessary, and ensuring no obstacles in their walkway.

Planning for The Future

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About the author

Rory Clark

Rory has more than 30 years’ experience practicing elder law, estate planning, asset protection, Veteran’s affairs, and special needs planning. Through his personal journey, Rory not only understands the complex legal issues involved as a professional but also the intense emotional issues as a caregiver.