Falls are a leading cause of injury, especially in children and seniors. But while most children recover without lasting complications, older adults are likely to be hospitalized. In fact, seventy percent of fatal falls occur in people over 75. What’s more, because falls are a major cause of hip injuries and head trauma, falling once doubles your chances of falling again. Seniors therefore ought to take steps to minimize their risk if they want to stay healthy and active as long as possible. Fortunately, elderly fall prevention is not difficult. With a little effort and understanding, you can reduce your odds of an accident and improve your balance, strength, and coordination.
Why Elderly People are Prone to Falls
Older adults suffer falls more often because of changes that occur as part of the aging process, which make it more difficult to perceive and react to danger.
- Poor Eyesight. Vision is an important part of your sensory motor system. Bad eyesight throws off your innate sense of balance, making it harder to remain oriented, judge distance, and gauge your surroundings. Depth perception is affected as well, increasing the likelihood of a misstep when walking downstairs, stepping over curbs, or reaching for high objects.
- Neuropathy. Neuropathy has several causes, but its primary symptoms are numbness, weakness, and pain in the feet and other extremities. Consequently, people suffering from it have a hard time knowing where their feet are or how their body is positioned in space.
- Muscle Loss. As people get older, they gradually get weaker, making it more difficult to stay upright or move effectively.
- Loss of Coordination. Reaction time decreases with age, which makes it harder for seniors to catch themselves when they stumble.
- Medication. It is not uncommon for seniors to be on several medications at once. With so many in their system, they can experience negative side effects, such as dizziness and lightheadedness, which increase their chance of falling.
To evaluate your risk, consider a physical performance test. This is a series of everyday tasks that allow your doctor to assess your balance, coordination, and overall strength. Then, based on the findings, you can develop an elderly fall prevention plan with your doctor.
Elderly Fall Prevention: The Basics
The good news is that with the right precautions, most falls are preventable if seniors remain aware of their environment and how they feel throughout the day.
- Adjust the Home. Most falls occur at home, so any elderly fall prevention plan should start there. Look for potentially hazardous areas, such as the bathroom. Installing grab bars by the toilet or in the shower will help you stay balanced. A shower bench might be an even better option. Beds are also tricky, but bed rails or an adjustable bed will make it easier to get up without falling over. Likewise, putting ramps over stairs reduces the danger of tripping.
- Remove Clutter. Keep floors, hallways, and staircases clear. Seniors often get their feet caught on rugs, so remove them as well.
- Segment Activities. Exhaustion increases your risk of falling. Space your tasks out over the course of the day and take time to rest when you get tired.
- Assistance Devices. If you are feeling unsteady, ask your doctor about getting a cane or walker. If you cannot avoid trips up and down stairs, consider putting in a lift to help you.
- Eat Well & Stay Hydrated. Without sufficient nutrients, you cannot maintain your strength, which is why a poor diet leaves you feeling faint. The same thing happens when you become dehydrated. However, keep in mind that drinking more water might also mean more trips to the bathroom.
- Manage Medications. Talk to your doctor if the medications they prescribe interfere with your balance. They may be able to give you an alternative or switch you to a smaller dose.
Beyond controlling environment and nutrition, older adults also need to maintain their fitness. A few basic exercises performed each day will help them stabilize their core and maneuver safely.
Parentis Home Health works with seniors to improve their physical skills, so they can continue living independently. Contact our team to find out how we can help you improve your endurance, coordination, and fitness.
Brooke McFerren is a Physical Therapist Assistant who works with older adults in Southern California. Through her personal approach to therapy, she has helped countless seniors remain strong, active, and independent during their advancing years.