Preventing falls is a crucial aspect to health and safety in the older adult. According to the CDC, each year one in every three Americans over the age of 65 fall and over 2 million people are treated in emergency departments due to injuries from falls, with an estimated $34 billion dollars spent on medical costs. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling and falls are the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries. These staggering statistics prove that a focus on falls prevention is not only important, but necessary, to maintain a healthy and independent lifestyle in the aging population. Fortunately, being aware of risk factors and taking simple steps towards prevention can be quite affective.
Falls Risk Factors:
- Lower Body Weakness: Strength and power are necessary to maintain a sturdy upright position or react quickly and effectively to perturbations.
- Poor Balance: Reactive, proactive, static and dynamic balance are all important in keeping you steady on your feet and able to respond to your environment as needed.
- Foot Problems: Pain in the feet or lack of sensation may lead to altered gait patterns as well as instability when standing or walking. Improper footwear may also lead to the potential of tripping or rolling your ankle.
- Poor Vision: It is important to be able to see variations in terrain and obstacles to adapt accordingly. Vision is a third of the input the body uses to maintain balance and changes due to aging can greatly affect eyesight.
- Medication: Some medications may make you dizzy, drowsy or feel light-headed upon standing (postural hypotension).
- Vitamin D Deficiency: A lack of this important nutrient may lead to weakened bones, possibly leading to spontaneous fractures when standing or walking and leading to a fall. This deficiency may also place an individual at higher risk for fractures due to a fall.
- Home Hazards: Rugs, stairs, objects on the floor and pets provide potentials for tripping. Unstable sitting surfaces or seats that are too low also make transitions more difficult with a risk of falling in the process.
Falls Prevention Tips:
- Review Medications: Discuss with your doctor about all of your medications to check for potential side effects or reactions of mixing multiple medications.
- Discuss your falls risk with a Doctor or Physical Therapist: If you have fallen or are concerned about falls, your Doctor or Physical Therapist can offer specific advice for your safety. A Physical Therapist can perform evidence-based tests to determine your level of risk and which factors are specifically contributing to your imbalances. They will then design a program including balance and strength training to address these concerns. You may also benefit from an assistive device for extra stability, including a cane or walker, and these professionals can provide recommendations and assist with proper fitting.
- Have your eyes checked.
- Take Vitamin D and Calcium supplements: Consult your doctor for recommendations.
- Balance, Strength and Gait Training: Community-based programs including Tai Chi or specific falls-prevention programs can be very effective and you can develop strength and balance in as little as 6-8 weeks. If you require more individual care or a specific program, Physical Therapy may be recommended. Physical Therapists will also ensure you are safe while performing exercises with guarding and assistance.
- Make Changes to your Environment : Remove rugs, put up hand rails (especially in the bathroom or near siting surfaces), ensure good light and illumination throughout the house, put up hand rails on both sides of stairs and clear any unnecessary objects from the ground.