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Q&A About Fall Prevention

Do you sometimes feel worried or fearful of experiencing an unexpected fall? There are many people just like you who would agree that preventing falls and unwanted injuries as a result of a fall are very important for a better quality of life. Prevention has everything to do with educating yourself on the facts about falls – from major risk factors and long-term consequences to the best methods to improve your surroundings and overall health in the process. 

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers about fall prevention:

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A “FALL?”

According to the World Health Organization, a fall is defined as an event that results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor or other lower level. Fall-related injuries may be fatal or non-fatal, though most are non-fatal.

HOW OFTEN DO THE ELDERLY FALL EACH YEAR?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.

WHAT ARE THE COMMON CAUSES OF FALLS AMONG OLDER ADULTS?

Older adults can experience a fall due to various internal and external factors. 

Internal factors could include:

  • Internal factors Contributing to Falls: Chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, dementia, and arthritis, can cause weakness in the muscles causing poor grip strength and balance disorders.  Dementia can cause cognitive impairment, which can also cause falls in the elderly.
  • Polypharmacy: If you are taking four or more medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist for appropriateness and proper dosages of those medicines.
  • External Factors Contributing to Falls: Poor vision-impairing depth perception can make someone misjudge when stepping on a level surface and uneven surfaces. Slippery surfaces around the sink or kitchen areas are dangerous for falls. Area rugs cause uneven surfaces that may cause someone with decreased leg strength who is shuffling feet instead of lifting feet when walking to trip over. Other environmental factors contributing to falls are clutter and loose chords that can inadvertently get in someone’s way when rushing around furniture in the house. Improper walking aids can also jeopardize a senior’s safety in their home.

WHERE DO FALLS AMONG OLDER ADULTS OCCUR MOST FREQUENTLY?

The majority of falls in the elderly population occur in or around seniors’ homes, especially during the day time when people are most active. About 10% occur in nursing homes or other institutions and about 50% occur outdoors on sidewalks, yards or gardens, streets or curbs, stairs, and parking lots. 

ARE SENIORS MORE PRONE TO FALLS?

Although falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults, it is not an inevitable result of aging. By making realistic lifestyle improvements, participating in fall prevention programs, and following the guidelines provided by a trusted physical therapist, the likelihood of a fall can be substantially reduced.

WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES (EFFECTS) OF FALLS AMONG OLDER ADULTS?

Not all people who fall end up experiencing an injury. However, 20% of falls cause a serious injury such as broken bones (wrist, arm, ankle, and hip fractures) or a head injury. Injurious and non-injurious falls can affect confidence when walking leading to a sedentary lifestyle, thus resulting in increased weakness and more chances of falling.

WHAT ARE THE BEST STRATEGIES FOR FALL PREVENTION?

  • Educate yourself. Educating yourself on fall prevention by attending community-based fall prevention classes and reading about fall prevention.  Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and the National Council of Aging (NCOA) are among the most reputable and reliable sources of information that give you the knowledge you need to make a plan and the tools to take action. As a result, you will begin to see that fear slips away, but you must first get out of your own way.  
  • See your physical therapist about any current pain or previous falls. Make regular visits to your physical therapist to address any new or pre-existing arthritic pain and to get your questions answered. They will work with you to create an injury prevention plan that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.
  • Stay physically active. A weekly routine that includes stretching, aerobic exercise, and weights helps control chronic illnesses such as Diabetes, Hypertension, Osteoporosis, and Fibromyalgia to mention a few. Sticking to a daily exercise routine reduces the risk of a fall by helping you maintain strong muscles, and bones. That will result in greater balance and walking speed not to mention, better reflexes in the face of unexpected stops and turns. Get a yearly vision check-up and clean your eyeglasses regularly.
  • Make improvements to your environment. Some common changes include better lighting, bathtub/shower handrails, non-slip shoes indoors and outdoors, and widening door frames. Conduct your own home safety assessment to fill in the missing gaps in your safety plan.

What questions do you have about fall prevention? Let us know in the comments!

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