September is the time of year when we observe greater awareness around the dangers of falling, particularly for seniors.
On September 23, the National Council on Aging will sponsor its annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day to raise awareness about how to prevent fall-related injuries among older adults. Greater education is needed about the impact of falls, fall prevention strategies and the implementation of fall prevention programs in communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year millions of older people—those 65 and older—fall. It’s a very serious public health problem because:
- One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury
- An estimated 3 million older people are treated in emergency rooms and more than 800,000 patients are hospitalized each year because of a fall injury
- In 2015, the total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
Falls are the leading cause of hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries, both of which can take a serious toll on seniors’ health, quality of life and independence. Older adults may start to fear they’ll fall and, as a result, limit their activities and social engagements. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation and feelings of helplessness.
There are a number of physical, behavioral and environmental risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of falling.
- Physical weakness. As adults age, they may lose strength, coordination, flexibility and balance, and have difficulty walking. Inactivity and a lack of exercise can exacerbate these physical weaknesses and increase the risk of falling.
- Vision problems can make it harder to see tripping hazards, obstacles and pavement irregularities.
- Medications. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, sleepiness, dehydration or interactions that can affect balance and lead to a fall. Tranquilizers, sedatives or antidepressants particularly may have this effect.
- Chronic conditions. Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis can result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain and medication use that can contribute to falling. It’s believed that a Vitamin D deficiency and foot pain can also be risk factors.
- Physical hazards. Seniors’ homes can become a minefield to navigate, especially if there are steps, throw rugs and clutter that can be tripped over.
While this is not a comprehensive list of fall prevention strategies, the following tips are a good place to start:
- Add appropriate movement and physical activity. Exercises that emphasize balance and maintaining strength can target reduce fall risk by increasing flexibility and mobility. Yoga, Tai Chi, swimming, water aerobics and gentle strength conditioning are all possibilities.
- Stay on top of your physical health. Talk to your health care provider about your risk of falling; he or she can perform a risk assessment. Be sure to share information about any recent falls and discuss how you can best manage contributing health factors (like osteoporosis) and medications in order to reduce your risk. You also will want to have your vision and hearing checked annually and keep your eyeglass prescription up to date.
- Make your living environment as safe as possible. Seniors are vulnerable to falling in the bathtub, stumbling on steps and tripping on uneven or cracked sidewalks. Changes to the home and community environment to address these problems can help you feel safer and less at risk. For example, the bathroom can be modified by installing grab bars in the shower or tub, having a place to sit, and having non-slip surfaces. Steps can have handrails, adequate lighting and contrast between steps. Remove clutter and slippery objects. Community sidewalks in disrepair can be reported to city officials for repair.
At Kadan Homecare, the safety of our clients, including preventing falls, is of utmost importance. Our staff can perform an in-home evaluation to identify hazards that could potentially cause a fall. For a complimentary evaluation or for more information about Kadan, please contact us at 770-396-8997.