Falls Prevention Awareness: Preventing Falls in Older Adults

Posted on September 20, 2017 by kerri

Studying Kinesiology & Applied Health in university, we learned about falls in older adults, falls prevention, and the risks that may be associated with older adults if they fall. However, did you know that falls can impact anybody’s life, and that children under age 5 and older adults are more likely to be seriously injured by falls? [1] If you’ve seen a particularly wobbly, “clumsy” or “accident-prone” young kiddo, you may wonder about this, since some kids just seem to fall 17 times a day and get up like nothing has happened. However, falls prevention is still important for kids of all ages, just as it is for older adults—and everybody. Today’s post will focus on preventing falls for older adults—on Friday, we will look at the factors surrounding falls in children and adolescents.

Black chair with pillow on it, table in front with cup of coffee and glass of water.

Falls Prevention for Older Adults

Because older adults are the population that is most perceived to be at risk from falls, I’ll start here. Factors surrounding how likely an older adult is to fall (and injure him or herself) include their medical history—which medications they are taking, and for what, and if they have fallen before. For instance, not just dizziness and balance issues could cause falls—gait problems, strength, and eyesight can impact their risk of falling. [2]

Being active and practicing balance and other functional movements such as bending, lifting, and so on with your doctor’s permission, can help to prevent falls. [2] Using mobility aids as directed is also important to avoiding falls. As well, your footwear can be an extremely important factor in how well you are able to avoid tripping—wearing good quality running shoes or flats indoors and out may help to prevent falls. [2] After all—slippers are called slippers for a reason, and the same could be said for flip-flops!

Your living environment is also important. Rugs are common causes of tripping and falling—loose rugs should be moved or adhered to the floor beneath. Electrical cords, newspapers, and other “clutter” should be removed from walking paths. [2.1] Storing items that are used regularly within easy reach, and avoiding step stools or ladders is important in preventing falls. [2.1] Unlike what may be anticipated, however, most falls do not happen on the stairs, while getting on/off ladders or stools, or even in the bathroom—56% of falls occur outside the home, and 26% of falls occur on level surfaces. [3] This could be due to increased education about falls, and older adults being more careful in areas they attribute to having increased fall risk, such as the bathroom/shower or stairs. [3] Keeping areas well-lit, and cleaning up spills immediately, can also be a huge factor in preventing falls! [2.1]

Risks of Falls in Older Adults

Fracture is one of the biggest risks from falls in older adults. Older adults with osteoporosis should be especially mindful of falls, as their bones can fracture very easily. The same prevention steps above apply to those with osteoporosis, however, it may be important to have an occupational or physical therapist come and screen your home for hazards. [4] Though you may feel it puts you at higher risk, it is of even greater importance for older adults with osteoporosis to stay active, as it can keep bones strong—ask a medical provider how you can best stay active with osteoporosis. [4]

For all older adults, falls can cause pain, disability, and injury, as well as a loss of independence following injury or with fear of re-injury or falling again. [5] Injury from falls is the sixth leading cause of death among adults over 65. [5] As well, the psychological impact of falls can be significant, and if injury or psychological trauma is significant, therapy may be required to assist the person in returning to normal activities—one professor I had in university described a rehabilitation psychology client who had fallen in her bathroom and broke her hip, and while in the hospital, would be shaking any time she had to use the bathroom due to fear of re-injury. Both physical and psychological therapy may be required to recover from a fall.

Independence for Older Adults

Older adults may feel more secure if they know they have a plan in place for if they do happen to fall. For instance, having a cell phone on them at all times to call for help, or phones that are accessible in every room, can help an independent older adult feel safer if they fall. If falls occur outside the home, and the person is not with a loved one, a medical ID bracelet can ensure their medical needs are known—such as an osteoporosis medical bracelet—or ensure that a family member is called to either meet them at the hospital or come to provide reassurance if the fall was not serious, by having an emergency contact engraved on the medical bracelet or necklace. Small steps like these can provide a lot of security for older adults fearful of falls.

Remember, be sure to check back Friday about falls prevention and management for children and adolescents!

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