Everyone is susceptible to falling. Younger people usually suffer no ill effects or if they do, the injury is minor and causes no long-term harm. Falls among older people, however, are a different story. Every year, one in three older adults falls but only less than half of them tell their healthcare providers about it. The low number of people who report falling is alarming because falls are the chief cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults. In fact, more than 90% of hip fractures are caused by falling. The percentage of fractures related to falls is twice as high for older women as it is for older men, and falls among adults over 65 cause the highest number of fatalities. In 2013, the direct medical costs from falls of older patients amounted to $34 billion. In the same year, about 25,500 older adults died from injuries caused by accidental falls. Falls among older adults happen for a variety of reasons. Muscle weakness, infections, poor eyesight, issues with walking or balance, and hazards in the home are some of them. Aside from causing fatal injuries, falls could also lead to nonfatal injuries that range from moderate to severe, such as laceration, hip fractures, and head traumas. In addition to the physical effects of a fall, there are also some psychological consequences, such as developing the fear of falling. Unfortunately, older patients who develop the fear of falling tend to restrict their movements, which makes their strength and flexibility deteriorate. This increases the risk of more falls in the future. Moreover, the same fear could keep them from engaging in social activities that are necessary for their mental and emotional health. With the assistance of family members or a caregiver, here are what patients can do to prevent falls and reduce their negative consequences:
Eat a balanced dietCalcium, protein, and essential vitamins are necessary for optimum health and having a balanced diet can help older adults prevent weakness, poor fall recovery, and risk injuries. A diet rich in calcium may also help decrease the negative effects if a fall should occur because calcium makes the bones stronger.
ExerciseRegular physical exercise helps improve balance and leg strength. This is especially important for older patients so the risk of falling will be lessened as they move around the house or other environments. Tai chi, walking, and water workouts are ideal activities as these exercises are usually not too strenuous. However, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor whether you can engage in these workouts. If not, the doctor may suggest other exercises that are better suited to you.
Visit the eye doctor at least once a yearPoor eyesight is a common cause of falling. Patients can sometimes perceive objects as being closer or farther than they are and in some instances, they don’t see objects in their paths altogether. To avoid accidents caused by eye conditions, such as glaucoma and cataracts, get your eyes checked at least once a year and make sure that your eyeglasses are updated so your vision will be maximized.
Take note of your medicationsSome medicines or combinations of medicines can cause dizziness and drowsiness, which could increase the risk of falls in elderly patients. If you are taking more than four medications at a time, develop a good medication management plan and ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all the medicines you are taking.
Reduce home hazardsMany things in the home could increase the risk of patient falls. To reduce the risk, rearrange the furniture to make wide and clear paths for walking, get rid of worn or slippery rugs, and make sure that objects are not left lying on the floor. Adequate lighting should be provided in areas where you usually spend your time in and grab rails should be installed in the bathroom, the kitchen, and other places in the house where falls are most likely to occur.
Avoid risk-taking behaviorsThe elderly sometimes overestimate their abilities to do certain activities. Standing on unsteady chairs, climbing ladders, or moving without the assistance of prescribed devices are some behaviors that can increase the risk of falls. Although refraining from doing these activities could make your mobility limited, it’s more important to be cautious to avoid accidents that could lead to more complications.
Wear well-fitting shoesLoose footwear could be the cause of tripping or falling so make sure that you wear shoes that fit you perfectly. Choose shoes that have non-slip, textured soles with good ankle support to help you be balanced and stable on your feet. Avoid wearing slippers or going barefoot.
Use mobility aidsWalking aids, such as a walker or a cane are helpful in the reduction of falls in seniors who have difficulty walking steadily. It is crucial, however, to consult a physiotherapist first before getting a walking aid because the wrong one could actually increase the risk of injuries due to falls.
Get assessed for fall riskIf you are prone to falls or if you want to know how high your risk for falls is, you can visit a falls clinic. There, you will be assessed for risk factors, such as the following:
- Impaired balance, strength, or bearing
- Impaired maneuverability
- Psychological/Cognitive impairment
- Nutritional issues
- Neurological issues, such as Parkinson’s diseases and stroke
- Musculoskeletal issues, such as arthritis, foot problems, joint replacement, and deformity
- Chronic illnesses, such as osteoporosis, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes
- Previous history of falls