Falls in the elderly are more common than most people realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three seniors in the US falls each year, and falls are the leading cause of injuries among older adults. That’s why it’s important to work proactively to prevent falls. A preventative approach to falling will enable an older adult to feel safer in her own home, and to live without the paralyzing fear of falling that may prevent her from doing things she loves.
Identifying the circumstances that put a senior at a greater risk of falling is the first step to preventing her from sustaining a fall. According to the American Family Physician, there are a few key elements that lead to over 2 million falls among American seniors every year. Environmental factors such as poor lighting, lack of grab bars and handrails, slippery surfaces, poorly fitted shoes, and trip hazards are all among the most common causes of falls. Fortunately, while dangerous, such dangers may be easy to prevent.
There are also a number of health-related issues that can increase your fall risk or, as in some cases, may directly cause falls. Some of the most common of these include problems with gait and balance, often caused by strokes, arthritis, neuropathy, and Parkinson’s disease. The effects of medication are also a leading cause of falls. Many cardiovascular medications, sedatives, and painkillers can have this effect, as can medications that have harmful interactions with one another. Vision problems such as glaucoma or issues with glasses, bifocals, and trifocals frequently leads to falls. Finally, illnesses that affect cognitive function, such as dementia, can greatly increase a person’s fall risk.
Most falls in the elderly can be prevented. Perhaps the best way to prevent falls is to take a multidisciplinary approach. Try to be proactive in a number of ways, including:
- Making your home a safe place. Determine what you can do around the house to make it safer for an older adult; for example, add grab bars, improve lighting, and keep walkways clear. The National Institutes of Health offer a checklist for fall proofing your home that can help you get started.
- Wear slip-resistant shoes. Heels, house shoes, and loafers can lead to falls because they don’t protect against slips. Wearing supportive, rubber-soled footwear can play a major role in fall prevention.
- Stay active. Regular exercise will help you build balance and strengthen muscles, both of which play an important role in fall prevention. Engage in fun activities, like walking around the neighborhood with a friend or loved one, golfing, or water exercises.
- Communicate with your primary care physician. Open discussions with your doctor about any issues you are experiencing can help prevent falls. Don’t forget to regularly review your medications with a doctor or pharmacist, too.
- Invest in a medical alert system. In case a fall does occur, a medical alert system ensures that help will be on the way with just the push of a button. A device that includes fall detection technology can even place a call automatically after most falls.
Seniors who sustain falls often endure serious injury that can result in a loss of their independence. Be proactive about fall prevention — it’s one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your health.