Tips to Help Elders Prevent Falls

When you’re older, a fall can be catastrophic, resulting in injury, hospitalization, or even death. This is why it’s especially important for people over 65 to avoid them, an expert says. “The sheer numbers related to falling – which happens to one-third of Americans over age 65 each year – are terrifying,” says Dr. Elizabeth Lansverk, a board-certified gerontologist. At their worst, falls can cause hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries. But even when they don’t injure people physically, falls can greatly affect an elder’s quality of life,” says Landsverk, founder of ElderConsult Geriatric Medicine, a house calls practice in Burlingame, Calif. In this age group, falls result in 2.8 million emergency room visits, 800,000 hospitalizations, and more than 27,000 deaths a year annually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. “These startling statistics certainly deserve the attention of not only elders, but those who love them,” says Landsverk. “At their worst, falls can cause hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries.” “But even when they don’t injure people physically, falls can greatly affect an elder’s quality of life. Many older adults curtail their activities and social lives simply because they fear falling, which can lead to negative effects such as isolation and depression,” she adds.

According to the National Council on Aging, these common factors increase the risk of falling among older adults. They include:

·         Balance and gait issues: With aging often comes a loss of coordination, balance and flexibility, making falls more likely.

·         Vision issues: Less light typically reaches the retina in older people, making it harder to see the things that might trip them.

·         Medication use: Some drugs can trigger dizziness, dehydration or other side effects that can prompt falling.

·         Home environment: Many seniors have lived in the same home for years, so they don’t think of changes they could make to improve safety.

·         Chronic health problems: With more than 9 in 10 seniors coping with at least one chronic medical condition such as foot pain, arthritis or diabetes – which can lead to pain, medication use, or inactivity – falls become more likely.

Here are Landsverk’s tips:

·         Talk to your elders about falling: Some older adults seem oblivious to their heightened fall risk, but others are keenly aware of the dangers. “If they’re concerned about their balance or coordination or complain of occasional dizziness, it’s a good idea to remind them to discuss these concerns with their doctor.

·         Consider exercise and tai chi: Both of these can prevent falls. Best to have a physical therapist evaluate each elder to make sure their plans are safe and effective. Make sure the elder is getting enough nutrition, protein and fluid, and proper sleep to keep up their strength.

·         Review their medications: With their doctor or pharmacist, have the elder review their use of over-the-counter and prescription drugs to determine if any may be causing dizziness or sleepiness, or combine to cause dangerous side effects affecting balance. Avoid over-treating high blood pressure.

·         Make sure their eyes have been checked: An annual eye visit is optimal, and eyeglasses should be updated as needed

·         Tweak their home environment: Hazards such as dim lighting, broken or uneven steps, clutter or throw rugs on the floor (which can slip), or a lack of handrails on the stairs or in bathrooms can add to the fall risk.