As a mom, I vividly remember watching my kids take many falls. From their first shaky steps to rambunctious high school basketball games, I was always impressed when they got back up and kept going, even with a few bumps or bruises. As we age though, falling is a far different issue.
According to the National Institute on Health, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence and injury deaths for older adults. If there is one thing you can do to optimize your loved one’s health and quality of life, it is recognizing the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that contribute to falls, then taking actions to minimize their risk.
Age and health-related factors
Intrinsic factors are age-related changes and associated medical conditions that affect mobility and posture. For instance, slower reflexes can make it harder for elders to catch their balance when they slip. Older adults with weak leg muscles, especially those with poor balance or difficulty walking, are especially at risk of falling. Other conditions that could cause risk are:
- Impairment of normal brain function
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Nerve, muscle or sensation abnormalities
- Painful foot conditions or numbness in their feet
- Vision problems
- Inner ear problems
Typically, older adults who suffer from any of the above have an associated medical condition, such as dementia, arthritis or cataracts, which also contributes to the risk of falls.
Medication and other environmental factors
Medications can be a major contributor to falls – in fact, the more drugs a senior takes, the more likely they are to fall. That’s because of potential side effects such as:
- Reduced alertness
- Delayed processing of the brain
- Impaired brain circulation
- Involuntary muscle contractions that influence gait, movement and posture
Poor lighting or a cluttered environment are other factors. So are walking on slippery or uneven surfaces, wearing unsafe footwear like high heels or backless slippers, or carrying heavy bulky items up or down stairs.
Taking steps to help to prevent falls
There are a number of important strategies you can take to reduce the likelihood of your loved one falling, like:
- Having their prescription and over-the-counter medications reviewed by a geriatrician or a pharmacist
- Making sure they have their vision checked at least annually
- Buying assistive devices, such as canes, walkers and reachers
- Identifying fall hazards in the home and modifying the environment by installing railings on stairways, getting rid of throw rugs and improving lighting
- Encouraging them to take exercise classes that focus on improving balance, strength and flexibility, such as Tai Chi. A Matter of Balance offers classes specifically geared to seniors.
- If your loved one is quite frail and unsteady, consult a physical therapist rather than joining a class. With a physician’s referral, Brookdale’s physical therapists, for example, may be able to prescribe exercises to address specific balance, gait stability and mobility issues, if appropriate.
If your loved one qualifies for home health, the Brookdale Home Health team includes health care professionals who can help you assess all the falling hazards in your senior’s life and develop a plan to reduce the risk. If this assistance would be helpful to you, please contact them to discover available options.