By Kari Anders, PT
Monument Health Lead-Deadwood Hospital
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of four adults 65 or older report falls every year in the United States, and 20 to 30 percent of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries. In 2015, medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion in the United States. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65 and older.
The good news is that most can be prevented. Whether you are a senior or you have an aging parent, grandparent, or neighbor in your life, you can help reduce the risk of falling.
- Talk openly with your loved one and enlist their support to stay safe.
- Discuss their current health conditions. More than 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, stroke, or arthritis. Often, these increase the risk of falling, because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain or multiple medications.
- Find out if your older loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications? Are they experiencing side effects? Is it getting harder for them to do things that used to be easy? Are hearing and vision changes becoming problematic?
- Suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider, who can assess their fall risk and suggest programs or services that could help.
- Tell a healthcare provider right away about falls, unsteadiness, or even fear of falling. This fear can stop a person from doing favorite activities that are important to their mental and physical health. Legs weaken with inactivity. When we sit, we lose the muscles that we need to use to stand and walk and move. This contributes to increased falls.
- Find out about the side effects of any medicine they take. If a drug increases sleepiness or dizziness, tell the doctor or pharmacist. Keep an updated list of medications.
- Have feet evaluated yearly, and discuss proper footwear.
- Avoid dehydration.
Ask about their last eye checkup.
- If your loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor.
- Tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings. A simple strategy is to change glasses upon entry or stop until the lenses adjust.
- Bifocals also can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious.
- For those already struggling with low vision, consult with a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of their eyesight.
- Notice if your loved one is holding onto walls, furniture or someone else when walking, or if they appear to have difficulty walking or rising from a chair. These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist. A physical therapist can help improve posture, balance, flexibility, strength and gait. They can evaluate vestibular dysfunction that can affect dizziness. They might also suggest a cane or walker and provide guidance on how to use these aids.
- Activities that improve balance and strengthen legs can prevent falls. One example is Tai Chi.
- Have your loved one talk to their doctor before beginning any exercise program.
Do a Walk-Through Home Assessment
- Over half of all falls happen at home.
- Keep the home clutter-free.
- Ensure there is adequate lighting, especially at the top and bottom of stairs. Have lighting readily available when getting up in the middle of the night.
- Remove throw rugs, or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping.
- Add grab bars in the bathroom—next to and inside the tub, and next to the toilet.
- Have two secure handrails on all staircases.
- For professional assistance with modification suggestions and safety with activities of daily living, consult an Occupational Therapist.
Impaired balance and fall-related injuries can affect a person’s ability to lead an independent and active life. Take the first step toward an effective fall prevention program before the first stumble occurs.