Each year, millions of people ages 65 and older fall. In fact, more than one out of four older people fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but less than half tell their health care provider. And, falling once doubles the chances of falling again.
- One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury
- Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries
- Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture
- Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures
- More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling,usually by falling sideways
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
Despite these alarming statistics, falling is not a normal part of aging. That myth perpetuates a cycle of fear and less activity, which can actually lead to a fall, which leads to more fear. Breaking the cycle might start with understanding that curtailing activity and staying home doesn’t help prevent falls. Most falls actually happen in the home and physical activity is a crucial part of fall prevention for seniors.
These tips from the National Institute on Aging can help reduce the risk of falls:
- Stay physically active. Plan an exercise program that is right for you. Regular exercise improves muscles and makes you stronger. Exercise also helps keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Mild weight-bearing activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, may slow bone loss from osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones weak and more likely to break. Try balance and strength training exercises. Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi can all improve balance and muscle strength. You can also try lifting weights or using resistance bands to build strength, but check with your health care provider first.
- Have your eyes and hearing tested. Even small changes in sight and hearing are linked to an increased risk for falls.
- Find out about the side effects of any medicines you take. If a drug makes you sleepy or dizzy, tell your doctor or pharmacist.
- Stand up slowly. Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop. That can make you feel wobbly. Get your blood pressure checked when lying and standing.
- Fairview Senior Living Occupational Therapist Eileen Broberg, OT, suggests, “Seniors should use an assistive device if they need help feeling steady when walking. Using canes and walkers correctly can help prevent falls. If your doctor tells you to use a cane or walker, make sure it’s the right size for you. Walker wheels should roll smoothly. If you borrow walking support equipment from a friend, ask your health care provider to make sure the equipment is the correct size and is safe to use. This is exceptionally important when you’re walking in areas you don’t know well or where the walkways are uneven. A physical or occupational therapist can help you decide which devices might be helpful and teach you how to use them safely.”
- Take extra caution when walking on wet or icy surfaces. These can be very slippery! Use an ice melt product or sand to clear icy areas by your doors and walkways.
- Keep your hands free. Use a shoulder bag, fanny pack, or backpack to leave your hands free to hold on to railings.
- Choose the right footwear. To fully support your feet, wear non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes. Don’t walk on stairs or floors in socks or in shoes and slippers with smooth soles.
- Consider staying inside when the weather is bad. Some community services provide 24-hour delivery of prescriptions and groceries, and many take orders over the phone.
- Always tell your health care provider if you have fallen since your last check-up, even if you did not feel pain when you fell. A fall can alert your doctor to a new medical problem or issues with your medications or eyesight that can be corrected. Your doctor may suggest physical therapy, a walking aid, or other steps to help prevent future falls.
In addition, Fairview’s Broberg suggests “Keeping your home brightly lit to avoid tripping on objects that are hard to see. Place night lights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways, and make clear paths to light switches that aren’t near room entrances. Consider trading traditional switches for glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches and turn on the lights before going up or down stairs.”
Broberg also recommends asking your health care provider about using an assistive mobility device, such as a cane or walker, which can provide stability. Other assistive devices may be supportive too. Consider handrails for both sides of stairways, non-slip treads for bare-wood steps, grab bars and a sturdy plastic seat for the shower or tub, plus a hand-held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down.
“Consider asking your health care provider for a referral to an Occupational Therapist. An Occupational Therapist like those working at Fairview Senior Living have special training in evaluating an individual’s functional ability to interact in the home environment. The evaluation process provides the clinician, patient/client, and care partners with important information to determine the best and most efficient approaches to increase safety, accessibility, and mobility in the home. Therapists with this specialized training are referred to as Every Day Safe Living Specialists. However, any Occupational Therapist can help you examine all fall prevention strategies. Some solutions are easily installed and relatively inexpensive. Others may require professional help or a larger investment. If you’re concerned about the cost, remember that an investment in fall prevention is an investment in your independence,” adds Broberg.
Many people think falls are a normal part of aging. The truth is, they’re not. Most falls can be prevented, and you have the power to reduce the risk for yourself and your loved ones. Exercising, managing your medications, having your vision checked, and making your home environment safer are all steps you can take to prevent a fall.
Brochure for family caregivers with steps to help prevent older adult falls
Brochure to help identify and eliminate fall hazards in the home
Brochure with exercises to help improve thigh and buttock strength and to reduce fall risk