As we age, we experience physical changes and become more susceptible to some types of health conditions. While we often cannot avoid some illnesses, we can get a better understanding of how they might affect the likelihood of falls. Awareness is the first preventative measure.
Consider some of these common ailments affecting the aging population and their impact on fall risk:
Heart Disease or Failure (CHF): Heart conditions can cause dizziness, balance problems, muscle weakness and fatigue, even with only slight exertion. Heart disease is also frequently associated with respiratory difficulties, which can result in many of the same falls-related conditions.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): The shortness of breath caused by COPD make you feel weak, dizzy or faint, even when you do simple things like get dressed or fix a meal.
Diabetes: Diabetes can cause a loss of feeling in the feet (diabetic ‘neuropathy’), which compromises your balance and sense of where obstacles and uneven footing may be a hazard.
Arthritis: The loss of joint flexibility due to arthritis makes it difficult to maintain a safe gait, to avoid potentially dangerous obstacles, and maintain balance.
Strokes: Strokes often result in muscle weakness, and/or sensory imbalances on one side of the body, which can compromise one’s ability to move about safely.
Parkinson’s Disease: Low blood pressure, particularly when rising from a lying or sitting position, is a common cause of falls due to dizziness and/or fainting.
Mental confusion: Mental confusion can increase the chance of a fall since it may be more difficult to determine whether an activity is putting one at greater risk, or it may take longer to respond to a situation where a fall might otherwise be averted.
Vision problems: A decrease in vision, whether caused by glaucoma and cataracts, or just aging eyes, makes it far more difficult to judge distance and avoid obstacles that could trip you up. This is naturally a particular concern at night or when in the dark.