The statistics are daunting. Nearly 3 in 10 adults over the age of 70 will fall every year! In fact, falls in the elderly are even more common than strokes!
Falls cause head injuries, broken hips and long term problems with daily activities like dressing, bathing and mobility. Worst of all, falls in the elderly can cause a break in one's confidence, leading to social isolation, decreased physical activity, institutionalization and a snowball effect of health decline.
If you've had a fall recently, or know someone who has, chances are you're scared. You're worried it's going to happen again. You're afraid it's going to be worse the next time. You're fearful of being left alone. Certain activities like showering, getting out of bed, or going up and down the stairs are scaring the bejesus out of you. All normal. All valid.
Why Falls In The Elderly Happen
The good news is, we know most of the reasons falls in the elderly happen. If you know why they happen you can address the risks. Here are some of the more common health and environmental reasons older adults fall:
- Elderly with mobility issues i.e difficulty walking around
- Older adults on 4 or more medications
- Issues with blood pressure causing dizziness when standing up too quickly
- Difficulties with vision
- Foot problems i.e. bunions, warts, foot corns, in-grown toe nails, planter fasciitis
- Unsafe footwear i.e. heels, slippers with no backing on the heel
- Slipping and tripping hazards in your home i.e. slippery shower floor, high bath tub wall to climb over, poor lighting
To make the above a little more specific, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, some of the more common risk factors for falls are postural hypotension, use of sedatives, use of 4 or more medications, reduced leg or arm strength, reduced leg or arm range of motion, reduced balance, difficulty transferring from bed to chair or using the toilet, shower or bathtub.
What we also know is that the more health issues you have, the higher the likelihood you'll fall. For example, if you have no health issues, you have a 10% chance of falling. One health issue, you have a 20% chance of falling. Four or more health issues you have a 40% chance of falling!
How To Stop Falling!
The best news of all however, is that the same New England Journal of Medicine study showed that if you decrease the number of health issues you're dealing with, you can dramatically reduce the risk of falling. Because so many of the risks of falling in the elderly are known and preventable, the task is actually pretty achievable.
Here's the quick fix guide:
- Improve muscle strength and balance (inquire about classes available at your local senior centre or YMCA)
- Improve your gait
- Get your vision checked and corrected
- Get your sitting and standing blood pressure tested and review with your doctor
- Get your blood tested for blood cell count, sodium levels, electrolyte levels, kidney function, blood sugar (especially if your diabetic) and review with your doctor
- Review all your medications with your doctor - check for any medications or combinations of medications that increase risk of falling (sedatives) and see if any can be avoided
- Change footwear as necessary (avoid heels, get slippers with backing around the heel)
- Make changes to your home environment (add lighting, slip-proof shower floor, add hand rails by toilets and shower, removes area rugs, explore a walk-in tub, get rid of obstructions in heavily trafficked areas, etc...
Reduce The Severity of Falling
Sometimes, no matter our best efforts, falls just happen. Whether it's bad luck or health risks that can't be overcome falls happen. This is especially true if you've already had a fall. Here are a few suggestions to help reduce the risk of injury from falls:
- Strengthen your bones. Falls cause over 90% of broken hips. As we age, our bones get more brittle, increasing the risk of fracture. Whether you have osteoporosis, osteoarthritis or Paget's disease, increase your intake of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K. You can find the minerals and vitamins in supplements or foods like fortified milk, leafy greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale. Exercise will also help maintain and improve bone density, regardless of age.
- Get help fast. 5 in 10 seniors who fall have difficulty getting up and need assistance. Older adults who get medical attention within the first hour of a fall have a 90% chance of returning home, avoiding a hospital stay. The bottom line is, the sooner help is found the better the chance of survival. The best way to get help fast is to either have 24X7 caregiver supervision or get one of the many newer medical alert systems with a help button, automatic fall detection and GPS tracking.
You Can Beat The Risk of Falling
You're not alone. Falls in the elderly are very common, as we've shown above. The worst thing you can do is ignore the risks of falling, dooming yourself to another tumble, or let the fear paralyze you into social and physical isolation. You can beat this if you're up to the task.
Learn the risks of falling, get a health audit to assess your individual risks of falling, address the results of the audit and make improvements to your health, fitness, medication regimen and home environment.