According to the National Council on Aging, one-quarter of older Americans will have a fall this year. Falls in the elderly are one of the most common causes of emergency room trips and injury for this population.
While a fall may only result in bruising or embarrassment, it can also lead to hip fractures and other broken bones. With care and planning, most falls are preventable.
Senior fall risks increase with age as the body goes through a series of normal changes. Eyesight becomes less sharp, making it difficult to see smaller hazards. Balance also becomes less stable with age.
The many health conditions that are associated with aging, such as diabetes complications and arthritis also make walking less stable. In addition, some medications that a senior may be taking have dizziness as a side effect.
The fear of falling can lead to an unfortunate cycle for older people. They are afraid that the damage caused by a fall will limit their ability to be independent. They then limit their activity to avoid falling.
This limited activity leads to a loss of strength and coordination, which increases the risk of a fall. As they become even less stable, they limit activity even more, continuing the cycle. Keep reading to learn about how to prevent dangerous falls in the elderly…
Common Causes of Falls in the Elderly
Outside of medical conditions, there are several common senior fall risks. Depending on the level of risk, senior fall prevention may involve only a few small changes. Other risks may require a larger investment of time and resources by the senior citizens or those caring for them.
Stairs, especially long staircases, can be a falling hazard for older adults. When going upstairs, seniors may become winded or their legs may tire. Either condition can lead to a fall down the stairs if they must stop midway up the staircase. Going downstairs, compromised vision may lead to a missed step or awkward foot placement.
Liquid spills are a dangerous fall hazard for senior citizens. They are not always able to see puddles of water or other liquids. This is especially the case in the bathroom, one of the most common areas of senior falls. Older people also have slower reaction times, so may not be able to grab hold of something when they begin to slip.
Younger people can quickly navigate around tripping hazards without thinking much of it. Older adults are less able to see small hazards. In some cases, age-related changes may change an older person’s gait when walking. They may shuffle rather than lift their feet when stepping. This makes them more prone to catching their feet on hazards such as rugs, cords and fallen objects.
Senior citizens often have different needs when it comes to footwear. The style of shoe they have always worn may not help their balance. For example, a shoe with a higher heel may not be the safest choice for a senior citizen. Seniors on a budget may also be tempted to purchase the least expensive shoes they can, which may not be the best fit for their walking needs.
Especially outdoors, uneven terrain can lead to falling. Common hazards include animal holes in the lawn, edging between the lawn and a walkway, and cracks in walkway surfaces. Seniors with low vision simply may not be able to see the changes in terrain, leading to a stumble and fall.
Tips for Senior Fall Prevention
Many senior fall risks are preventable. Resources and devices to help seniors are readily available. Family members will need to be proactive in the care of a loved one to alleviate fall risks.
A key way to keep older adults safe is increasing the lighting in their home. Physically, their eyes do not receive as much light as younger people. Brighter lighting will help seniors spot tripping hazards. Caregivers might want to consider motion-activated lighting in bathrooms and kitchens.
Depending on the physical condition of the older person, the use of stairs may need to be minimized. For some, this may mean a move to a residence on a single floor. For others, a stairlift can give access to multiple floors. Staircases should have sturdy rails on both sides so the senior can have a firm grasp.
Bathroom and Spill Safety
Grab bars in the bathtub and by the toilet make it much easier for older adults to use the facilities. A shower bench will also prevent a slip and fall in the tub. Anywhere in the house, spills need to be cleaned up as soon as possible.
Professional Shoe Fitting
Although it is more expensive, a professional shoe fitting done by someone who works with seniors can be a big help in fall prevention. A professional can make sure that the foot is firmly in the shoe, helping the senior with balance. They can recommend shoes that are practical, with good soles and slip-resistant textures.
Health and Fitness
Adapted for older people, the basic rules of health and fitness still apply when it comes to fall prevention. Families will find a great ally in a physician who can help a senior citizen be realistic about his or her limitations.
Staying fit and active will help prevent the loss of muscle strength and limited activity. Mild stretching and balance exercises such as those found at a senior yoga class will help an older person feel more confident when walking.
Fall Detection Devices
Many adult children are turning to top-rated medical alert systems for their elderly parents. The best personal emergency response systems include automatic fall detection for additional peace of mind. This comes in especially handy if your older parent lives alone and you’re worried they won’t be able to get to the phone in an emergency.