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Wednesday, September 21, 2016
The 9th annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day will be observed on September 22, 2016—the first day of fall.
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is seen in the emergency department for a fall-related injury. 1 in 3 older Americans fall every year. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for people age 65+.
If you have an aging parent, grandparent, friend, or neighbor in your life, these statistics can seem very scary. Your loved one may not want to discuss if they have been falling for fear of losing their independence. You also may be uncomfortable approaching the subject.
While the prevalence of falls in older adults is alarming, the good news is that most falls can be prevented. The key to preventing falls is knowing where to look. The common factors that lead to a fall include:
- Balance and gait. Normal changes in aging include changes in our coordination, flexibility, and balance making it easier to fall. Most of these changes occur due to inactivity.
- Vision. As we age, less light reaches our retinas, making contrasting edges, tripping hazards, and obstacles harder to see.
- Medications. Side effects of both prescription and over-the-counter medications can include dizziness, dehydration, or interactions that can lead to a fall.
- Environment. Having lived in their homes for a long time, most older adults do not think about simple and effective modifications that might make their home safer as they age.
- Chronic conditions. Nearly 90% of older adults experience a chronic condition like diabetes, stroke, and arthritis. These chronic conditions increase the risk of falls because they often result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or use of multiple medications.
To keep your loved one safe, here are 6 easy steps you can take to help reduce the risk of a fall:
- Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Ask your loved one if they are concerned about falling. While many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, they believe it won't happen to them or they won't get hurt. If they are concerned about falling, dizziness, or balance, suggest they discuss their concerns with their health care provider.
- Discuss their health conditions. Find out if your loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Make sure they are taking advantage of all of the preventative benefits under Medicare, including Annual Wellness visits and encourage them to speak openly about their concerns with their health care provider.
- Ask about their last vision checkup. If your loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and that they are using their glasses as advised by their eye doctor. Remind your loved one that using tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings. If your loved one uses bifocals, encourage them to be cautious on stairs.
- Notice if your loved one is holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking, if they have difficulty walking, or if they have trouble arising from a chair. These are all signs that it might be time to see a Physical Therapist who can help your loved one improve their balance, strength, and gait through exercise. The therapist may suggest a cane or walker as well as provide guidance on how to use these devices. Be sure to follow the therapist's advice as poorly fit or improperly used mobility aids can actually increase the risk of falling.
- Discuss their medications. If your loved one is having a hard time keeping track of medications or if they are experiencing side effects, encourage them to discuss their concerns with their health care provider and pharmacist. Suggest they have their medicine reviewed each time they get a new prescription.
- Conduct a walk-through safety assessment of your loved one's home. There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer including increased lighting, especially at the top and bottom of the stairs. Other suggestions would include ensuring there are two secure rails on all stairs and that bathrooms have grab bars installed in the tub/shower and near the toilet. You may also consider seeking the advice of an Occupational Therapist for additional home-safety recommendations. The Centers for Disease Control offers a home assessment checklist in multiple languages. Click here to access the checklist.
All information for this article was taken from the National Council on Aging Falls Free publication, 6 Steps to Protect Your Loved One From a Fall. For more information about fall prevention, visit the National Council on Aging Falls Prevention page.