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How can we prevent falls in older adults? Everything you need to know.

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Has your parent or grandparent fallen and gotten hurt? Have you felt helpless as if you can’t do anything to prevent falls in the future? There are three top actions you can work on with your loved ones to prevent them from falling.

To prevent falls in older adults, provide proven exercise programs, home modifications, and assistance with daily activities of living. Begin by understanding the physical and mental abilities of the older adult so an appropriate level of support can be provided.

We'll cover these step-by-step so that actions can be taken to keep older adults safe from falls.


Understanding the 3 causes of falls in the elderly

 

People over 65 years of age are at the highest risk for falls, as shown by the following statistics: 

  • Every 11 seconds an older adult falls and needs medical help.

  • Falls are the leading cause of injurious deaths among older adults.

  • Every year 285,000 older people are hospitalized due to a hip fracture resulting from a fall. 75% of these injuries happen to women because they are more likely to have osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones.

The three causes of elderly falls are:
  1. Decline in the function of the cerebellum which controls coordination and balance gets worse with age. A sense of motion or spinning, feeling lightheaded or unsteady, or confusion may be signs of this issue. Vision changes, such as blurriness, may also occur.

  2. Diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's affect the cerebellum. Over 1 million Americans suffer from Parkinson's disease (PD). PD affects physical movement and can result in hand or arm tremors, slow motion such as shuffling with very small steps, and muscle stiffness that makes moving around difficult. Six million Americans live with Alzheimer's disease. Memory problems are typically one of the first warning signs of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

  3. Medications used to treat hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, depression, and muscle relaxants often can cause dizziness. Over the past decade, 94 percent of elderly adults have been prescribed a drug that increases their risk of falling. This is a dramatic jump from the 57 percent recorded in 1999.


Prevent falls with exercise that increases strength and balance

 

Exercise programs like “A Matter of Balance,” “Tai Chi” and “Silver Sneakers,” are safe, effective, and proven to help increase strength and balance. Regular participation has been shown to help prevent falls.

  1. A Matter of Balance (MOB) is a program that helps older adults reduce their fear of falling and improve their physical activity level. Throughout the program, older adults learn that they can avoid falls and become confident in their abilities to remain active. In addition to learning the importance of exercise in preventing falls, the older adult practices exercises to improve strength, coordination, and balance. When MOB becomes part of their daily life, it can lead to older adults living a healthier and better quality of life.

  2. Tai Chi is an exercise program that increases muscle strength and physical balance. It is a 3000-year-old traditional Chinese martial art known for its low-impact and slow motions that lead to mental, physical, and emotional fitness. Physical movements are fluid and never forced, muscles are relaxed as they go through a series of circular movements. Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone of any age and can be done while sitting or standing. Exercises are specifically designed for older adults and take into consideration physical ability and mobility. Its aim is to help older adults stay active and lead healthy lifestyles.

  3. Silver Sneakers is a program for older adults paid for by some Medicare programs. It is a health and fitness program that provides gym access allowing older adults to take advantage of the gym, pools, classes, and walking tracks. Online resources are also available.

As well as preventing falls, regular exercise improves the overall health of adults, increases their socialization, and helps them to enjoy a higher quality of life. 

Prevent falls by creating a safe and functional home environment

It is known that 85% of all falls happen in homes. Fall prevention can begin in the home by creating a living space that is easy for the older adult to move about. We’ll focus on the bedroom, bathroom, and living room.

Bedroom Modifications: The majority of them occur during the night as the older adult gets up and heads to the bathroom. Modifications to the bedroom should take into consideration poor vision common among older adults especially under low light, loss of balance as a result of lying for a long period, and loss of orientation due to darkness.

Top bedroom modifications include:
  • Clear the path (furniture and rugs) from the bed to the bathroom.

  • Install night lights activated by motion.

  • Organize items (phone, flashlight, medication, etc.) on the nightstand so they are easy to reach.

  • Install grab bars along the wall leading to the bathroom for balance support.

Bathroom Modifications: 80% of all falls that happen in homes happen in the bathroom. Providing older adults to navigate the bathroom safely consists of providing grab bars to help them with stability and balance, non-slip safety strips to avoid slips and trips, higher toilet seats to compensate for weaker strength and balance, and chairs for older adults to sit on while bathing. Ergonomic bathrooms designed for the older adult in mind can help older adults avoid hip fractures, concussions, and even deaths.

Living Room Modifications: Take inventory of the older adult’s needs first before modifying the living room. Get them involved in the process so they understand the importance of the changes being made. In addition, they spend the majority of their time in the living room so understanding their activities of daily living is important. Keep the living room free of clutter so they can move around easily. Consider rearranging furniture so there is plenty of space between furniture allowing the older adult to walk safely with their walker or cane. Remove area rugs because as older adults age, they begin to shuffle and rugs become trip hazards.


Prevent falls by using caregivers and technologies

 

Caregivers are the best at preventing falls. Friends, family, and loved ones play an important part in keeping older adults safe. Family caregivers provide an average of 23.7 hours of care each week. This number goes up substantially for those whose care recipients live with them (37.4 hours per week), making caregiving the equivalent to a full-time job. Caregivers can use technologies to help keep older adults safe from falls. These can range from video cameras such as Arlo and video conferencing tools such as Amazon Alexa. OK2StandUP helps caregivers remotely monitor older adults especially at night and can be a game-changer in helping older adults age in place.


References:

https://www.caregiver.org/resource/caregiver-statistics-demographics/

https://www.fawssit.com/why-do-seniors-keep-falling-especially-in-the-bathroom/