Falls are one of the main causes of morbidity and disability in the elderly. More than one-third of senior citizens aged 65 or older fall every year. It is important to prevent these accidents since they can have irreversible physical and psychological repercussions, greatly affecting the elder's quality of life.
Consequences of a Fall
Fractures and soft tissue injuries are the most common physical consequence of a fall. Unfortunately for elders, even minor injuries might require hospitalization and they may never regain the level of mobility and independence they had. Falls present a risk of major head and spine injury (if the elder suffers an impact on their head, they should seek medical attention immediately as there is a risk of brain damage).
Why do Elders Fall?
There are several risk factors that make elders more susceptible to falls. Naturally, as we age many of our senses deteriorate, making it difficult to avoid hazards and maintain balance.
The top causes of falls in the elderly are:
- Poor Visions
It is very common for our eyes to deteriorate with age caused by conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma. Poor eyesight makes it difficult to identify fall hazards such as uneven terrain, steps and puddles.
- Previous Conditions
As we get older it is more likely for us to develop health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis. These conditions affect a person's balance, strength and cognitive function making them more susceptible to falls. It also minimizes their ability to recover after an accident.
- Environmental Hazards
The environment the elder is living in may present a risk factor for falls. In fact, the majority of these accidents occur in the senior's home. These hazards could present as wet floors, clutter, change in furniture positioning or poorly lit rooms.
- Lack of Exercise
Inactivity becomes more common among adults as they age. However, the lack of physical movement causes weakness of the muscles, decreased bone mass and poor balance and coordination. All these factors contribute to falls.
- Side Effects of Medications
Medications to treat conditions such as depression, high blood pressure and sleep problems are common amongst seniors. However, many medications present side effects such as drowsiness and loss of balance, increasing the likelihood of a fall.
How to Prevent Falls
Falls are a common occurrence amongst elders that can have very serious consequences. Here are some interventions that have been shown to reduce the risk of these accidents happening.
- Vision Management
All adults should maintain regular eye checkups. Since seniors are at higher risk for sight deterioration, they should maintain more regular visits. It is important to follow the doctor's recommendations regarding updating your prescription and wearing your required visual aids (e.g. glasses, contact lenses).
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplementation is the only intervention that has been shown to decrease the rate of falls in long-term care. It assists with the absorption of calcium from the food we consume. Calcium is necessary for bone strengthening, which reduces the likelihood of a fall.
- Monitor your Medications
It is important to note the possible side effects of every medication taken and how they might increase the risk of a fall. Polypharmacy (the concurrent use of multiple medications) may cause unexpected side effects. It is always important to disclose to your doctor all the medications you take so they can assess the risks.
- Adapt your Environment
There are multiple changes you can make to reduce the fall hazards in your living environment:
- Declutter and avoid leaving things on the floor;
- Wear proper non-slip footwear;
- Install assistive devices;
- Use proper lighting
- Stay Active
Gentle and light exercise can go a long way in preventing falls amongst seniors and ensuring they maintain their independence. Walks, water workouts or physiotherapy are all great ways to keep your body moving and strong.
Why You Should Focus on Fall Prevention?
The recovery time for any mild injuries amongst seniors is much longer than any adult. Furthermore, falls decrease their confidence and sense of independence, which can lead to a multitude of mental health problems. It is important to minimize the risk of a fall before any accident happens.
This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your healthcare provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your healthcare provider.
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