Have you ever seen an older loved one take a fall? Perhaps you might have fallen one or more times yourself. It is believed that older adult falls are inevitable, but in reality, most falls can be prevented. Older adults and caregivers have a role in fall prevention strategies. Exercising, managing your medications, having your vision checked, and making your living environment safer are steps to prevent a fall.
The Fear of Falling
The fear of falling and a history of falls can make people more resistant to engaging in activities such as walking, doing chores, or participating in social activities. This may only worsen the problem, as a reduction in physical activity can lead to muscle deconditioning or weakness. Complete the National Council on Aging Falls Free Checkup to get your fall risk score and resources to prevent falls.
The Cost of Falls
Older adult falls are very costly. Approximately, $50 billion is spent on medical costs related to older adult falls each year. Additionally, falls can lead to a loss of independence, increased reliance on others for assistance, and increased risk for social isolation.
South Carolina Falls Data
It is important not to let the fear of falling stop people from living and to know about the risks of falling. According to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, from 2017-2021, falls were the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths among South Carolina residents 65 and older. Evidence from their vital statistics report shows falling was the second leading cause of injury death for adults between the ages of 65-74, and it was the first leading cause for adults between the ages of 75-85 and older.
Data in a 2020 report from the CDC also shows that while not all falls result in an injury, about 37% of those who fall reported an injury that required medical treatment or restricted their activity for at least one day, resulting in an estimated nine million fall injuries.
What Are The Risk Factors for Falling?
As mentioned earlier, the chances of falling and being seriously injured from a fall increase with age.
- The 85 and older age group is known to be at the greatest risk of falling. This can be due to decreased reaction times, particularly in step initiation and execution timing.
- Individuals with visual and hearing impairments
- Multiple medications
- People who are not physically active are more likely to fall. Being sedentary leads to muscle weakness, which contributes to instability.
- Deficiencies in nutrients such as Vitamin D can result in muscle weakness, osteoporosis, and impaired gait patterns.
- General pain when walking, calluses, long toe deformities, ulcers, and nail deformities can decrease balancing ability.
- Living socially isolated at home
- There are also several chronic conditions that people develop over time that can contribute to the risk of falling, such as vascular diseases, Arthritis, thyroid dysfunction, or Parkinson’s.
Mobility Plan Checklist / How to Reduce Your Risk
The SCDOA has developed a Mobility Plan Checklist to assist you with assessing your medications and home environment to reduce fall risk.
- Review Medications:
- One of the first things you can do for yourself is review your medications. Some medications have side effects, which may increase your risk of falling. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded is one of many prescription drugs' most common side effects. Meds that cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, dehydration, or low blood sugar can trigger dizziness, which significantly increases your risk of falling
- Dizziness can be made worse by taking a combination of drug products or by drinking alcohol with your medications. This is why reviewing your medications with your doctor or pharmacist is important.
- Speak With Your Physician:
- Schedule an appointment to speak openly with your physician concerning your risk of falling and any preventative steps you could take.
- Check Hearing and Vision:
- Have your vision and or hearing checked yearly. Poor vision can increase your chances of falling. A mild condition of hearing loss triples the risk of an accidental fall.
- Check Your Feet Annually
- Have your feet checked by your doctor annually to discuss proper footwear and advise if you need to see a podiatrist.
- Exercise Frequently
- Exercise will improve your balance and strength, lowering your chance of falling. Senior centers and community centers are a great way to connect you to exercise programs.
- To find an exercise program near you, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
- Create an Escape Plan
- Create an escape plan in case of a fire. In the event of a fire, time is critical. Develop an escape plan for the quickest way out of your home safely.
- Home Safety Evaluation
- Perform a home safety evaluation to identify and fix any hazards that may contribute to a fall. Check locations like the kitchen, stair steps, floors, bedrooms, and bathrooms.
- According to our Occupational Therapist with the SC Department on Aging, many seniors do not realize that some of their everyday habits and routines around the home can lead to a fall. Occupational therapists offer cost-effective and client-centered solutions to prevent falls. Making simple changes to the environment, such as adding a motion sensor light in a dark hallway or installing a grab bar in a shower, can greatly improve safety and independence in the home.
Potential Hazards at Home
Several areas within a home can have potential hazards contributing to your fall risk. These are some questions that you should ask yourself.
- Are there things you use often on high shelves?
- Is your step stool sturdy?
- Stairs and Steps
- Are there papers, shoes, books, or objects on the stairs?
- Are some steps broken or uneven?
- Is there a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs?
- Has a stairway light bulb burned out?
- Is the carpet on the steps loose or torn?
- Are handrails loose or broken?
- Is there a handrail on only one side of the stairs?
- When you walk through a room, do you walk around furniture?
- Do you have throw rugs on the floor?
- Do you have to walk around wires and cords?
- Is there a presence of pets/pet items?
- Are there any uneven surfaces through doorways/thresholds?
- Is the light near the bed hard to reach?
- Is the path from your bed to the bathroom dark?
- Is the tub or shower floor slippery?
- Do you need support getting in and out of the tub or up from the toilet?
In conclusion, while the risk significantly increases as you age, falling is still not a normal part of aging. The fear of falling should not get in the way of people enjoying their golden years, which is why it is beneficial to know about resources and practices in your area that can reduce the risk of a fall or prevent it altogether.
Good practices, such as regular exercise and normal sleeping intervals, can make just as big of an impact as evaluating your home for hazards or reviewing your medications with providers.
For more information about different exercise programs and other resources that might be within your area, please be sure again to contact your local Area Agency on Aging. With the appropriate plan, you can overcome your fear of falling and live life to the fullest.