Fall Prevention Tips and Resources
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in people age 65 and older. Common injuries due to falls are head injuries, shoulder and forearm fractures, spine fractures, pelvic fractures, and hip fractures. There is a pattern to falls among the elderly: The fear of falling, then the injury, followed by hospitalization, decreased independence and mobility, and often relocation to a nursing or residential institution.Falls can be a major life-changing event that robs the elderly of their independence. Fortunately, many falls can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices and safety modifications in the home.
Many things can put you at higher risk for a fall, such as certain medical conditions or poor dietary habits.
Medical Risk Factors
- Impaired musculoskeletal function, gait abnormality and osteoporosis
- Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), blood pressure fluctuation
- Depression, Alzheimer's disease and senility
- Arthritis, hip weakness and imbalance
- Neurologic conditions, stroke, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis
- Urinary and bladder dysfunction
- Vision or hearing loss
- Cancer that affects the bones
- Side effects of medication
Personal Risk Factors
- Age- The risk for a fall increases with age. Normal aging affects our eyesight, balance, strength, and ability to quickly react to our environments.
- Activity- Lack of exercise leads to decreased balance, coordination, and bone and muscle strength.
- Habits- Excessive alcohol intake and smoking decrease bone strength. Alcohol use can also cause unsteadiness and slow reaction times.
- Diet- A poor diet and not getting enough water will deplete strength and energy, and can make it hard to move and do everyday activities.
Risk Factors in the Home
Many falls are the result of hazards like slippery or wet surfaces, poor lighting, inadequate footwear, and cluttered pathways in the home. Most fractures are the result of a fall in the home, usually related to everyday activities such as walking on stairs, going to the bathroom, or working in the kitchen.
You can play a role in preventing falls. Encourage the older adults in your life to:
- Get some exercise. Lack of exercise can lead to weak legs and this increases the chances of falling. Exercise programs such as Tai Chi can increase strength and improve balance, making falls much less likely.
- Be mindful of medications. Some medicines—or combinations of medicines—can have side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness. This can make falling more likely. Having a doctor or pharmacist review all medications can help reduce the chance of risky side effects and drug interactions.
- Keep their vision sharp. Poor vision can make it harder to get around safely. Older adults should have their eyes checked every year and wear glasses or contact lenses with the right prescription strength to ensure they are seeing clearly.
- Eliminate hazards at home. About half of all falls happen at home. A home safety check can help identify potential fall hazards that need to be removed or changed, such as tripping hazards, clutter, and poor lighting.
Steps for Home Safety
The following checklist can help older adults reduce their risk of falling at home:
- Remove things you can trip over (such as papers, books, clothes, and shoes) from stairs and places where you walk.
- Install handrails and lights on all staircases.
- Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping.
- Keep items you use often in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool.
- Put grab bars inside and next to the tub or shower and next to your toilet.
- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
- Improve the lighting in your home. As you get older, you need brighter lights to see well. Hang lightweight curtains or shades to reduce glare.
- Wear shoes both inside and outside the house. Avoid going barefoot or wearing slippers.