Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries among adults 65 and older. Each year, more than 3 million seniors go to the emergency department due to fall injuries.
Falls can be a sign of declining health. They can also be the start of a downward spiral leading to a loss of mobility. Many people have personal experiences or they've heard stories about seniors breaking a hip and never regaining independence.
Too often, people become less active after a fall, leading to further muscle weakness and a greater risk of falls in the future. Even the fear of another fall can become a barrier to staying active.
The CDC STEADI program has published fall prevention brochures and downloadable documents written in easy-to-read language. Many focus on three primary risk factors for falls in older adults.
Risks associated with health
- Muscle weakness
- Poor balance or dizziness
- Vision changes
- Loss of sensation in the feet
- Some health conditions or medications can increase fall risk. Ask your doctor for a gait study.
Risks within the home
- Lack of grab bars or proper seating in the shower or tub
- Tripping or slipping hazards, especially at night
- Inadequate stair rails
Risks associated with behavior
- Not understanding physical limitations, especially when using stools or ladders
- Not understanding the side effects or timing of medications
A daily walk down the block or around the house can improve strength, balance and foot sensations. Even seniors who are less mobile can benefit from chair exercises or moving with a walker or gait belt. Older adults may need motivation and help from a family member. Starting a daily routine of movement can promote a stronger body and mind.
Free risk assessment
Many people don’t realize Medicare covers a fall risk assessment in their annual wellness visit. Older patients may need help from a family member or caregiver to implement the recommendations in a risk assessment.
Socks or floppy slippers are a fall waiting to happen, especially during the night when it is dark and seniors may be groggy. Well-fitting shoes or slippers with rubber soles are usually best. If someone shuffles to walk, they’ll need further attention to stay mobile.
- Remove rugs when possible.
- Use bath seats and high-quality non-slip bath mats in bathrooms
- Install grab bars at the tub, shower and toilet
- Improve lighting, especially night lighting
- Raised toilet seats
- Two hand rails for stairways
Ask your doctor for a referral to occupational therapy. Many therapists are trained in fall prevention.