Top 5 Fall Prevention Tips for Seniors
If you’re over 65 or have a loved one who is, you may be concerned about falls, and for good reason: They are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older adults, according to the Centers for Disease. Control and Prevention (CDC).
They’re also on the rise: Fall death rates rose 30% from 2007 to 2016, and if that trend continues, the CDC estimates there will be seven deaths per hour by 2030. And experts say the number could only increase after a pandemic.
âAnecdotally, we are seeing an increase in falls due to the isolation that many seniors have experienced,â says Kathy Wyle, PT, physiotherapist for Granite VNA in Concord, New Hampshire. âA lot of older people couldn’t even get out of their homes, so their activity levels really went down, which affected their strength and balance. Not to mention that if people start to feel unstable, it can. cause a fear of falling, then they go in a spiral of doing less and less, which only makes the problem worse. “
While there is no guarantee that you will never fall, there are things you can do to help prevent falls and the resulting injuries. Here are five ways.
You may feel like home is the safest place, but the reality is 6 out of 10 falls occur at home, according to the National Institute on Aging.
But that risk can decrease if you take some basic safety precautions like decluttering, installing handrails and better lighting, notes Alexander Garbin, PT, DPT, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado medical campus at Anschultz.
Garbin and the National Institute on Aging recommend the following:
- Install handrails on both sides of all stairs and use them (if you need to carry something, hold it in one hand and use the handrail with the other.)
- Make sure there is good lighting with switches at the top and bottom of the stairs and at the ends of the hallways. Keep night lights in your bedroom and bathroom.
- Do not leave books, papers, clothes or shoes on the floor or stairs.
- Don’t use throw rugs or rugs that you can trip over, Garbin says. Make sure the rugs are securely fastened to the floor and place non-slip strips on areas not covered with rugs (you can get these at the hardware store).
- Place grab bars near the toilet and inside and outside your tub and shower.
- Keep the items you use frequently close at hand. If you need to get something too high, use a âreach stick,â which is a special grabbing tool that you can buy at the hardware store. Do not use a stepladder unless you have someone next to you.
- Know where your pet is when you are standing or walking, so they don’t trip you up.
If you have ever fallen, your doctor may ask an occupational therapist or nurse to come to your home to assess its safety. You can also check with your local health department or local aging agency to see if they have any programs to help you with the changes.
Muscle weakness is a major cause of falls.
âThe muscles in your legs, especially the muscles of the calves, hips and knees, are especially important, because if you trip or slip, those are the muscles that grab you,â Garbin explains.
This is especially true when you’re outdoors and walking on uneven surfaces, which is more of a balance challenge, he notes.
You can reap benefits from basic physical exercise like walking, says Cathy Ciolek, PT, DPT, spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association and president of Living Well with Dementia, a geriatric physiotherapy center in Wilmington, Delaware.
You can also do these simple strength exercises at home from the US Library of Medicine most days of the week. Do each 10 to 15 times:
Strengthens: Calves and ankles
Hold onto the back of a chair and push up on your tiptoes as high as you can, then slowly lower your heels.
Strengthens: Buttocks and lower back
Hold onto the back of a chair and lift one straight leg up behind you, then bend the knee and bring your heel back towards your buttocks before returning it to your starting position.
Sit in a straight-backed chair with your feet on the floor. Stretch one leg out in front of you as much as possible, then lower it.
Good balance is important in preventing falls because it helps you control and maintain your body position, Ciolek explains. A great way to improve your balance is to practice tai chi: a review from July 2017 in theJournal of the American Geriatric Societyhas found that it halves the risk of falls and may be even more effective than other forms of fall prevention like physiotherapy.
Other good balance exercises include standing on one foot, walking from heel to toe, and even standing in a seated position, Ciolek adds.
Another easy exercise that you can do even in front of the TV – just get up and, holding onto a sofa or chair for support, swing from side to side. âIt shifts the weight on each leg, which helps build balance, strength and even confidence,â says Wyle.
According to the 2020 National Healthy Aging Survey, two-thirds of seniors rely on two or more prescription drugs and 20% take at least five. But the more medication you take, the greater your risk of side effects such as dizziness or low blood pressure, which can cause you to fall, says Nisha Rughwani, MD, associate professor of geriatrics and palliative care at Icahn. . Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Case in point: People who take more than four prescription drugs are responsible for nearly a quarter of all falls that lead to hospitalization, according to a November 2020 study inBMC Public Health. Some of the more common drugs are:
- Anti-anxiety drugs like diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan)
- Medicines to treat overactive bladder, such as oxybu-tynine (Ditropan) and tolterodine (Detrol)
- Prescription sleeping pills like zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), and eszopiclone (Lunesta)
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil), which are sometimes prescribed for chronic pain relief
- Opioids like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Percodan, Percocet) or fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Over-the-counter sedative antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
It’s always a good idea to have your medication reviewed annually with your primary care doctor or pharmacist, to see if you are taking anything that could potentially increase your risk for falls.
âThis is especially important now during the pandemic, as many older people have been prescribed anti-anxiety and sleeping pills to help them cope with this stressful time,â notes Dr Rughwani.
5. Get your vision and hearing checked
Even small changes in sight and hearing can make you more vulnerable to falls, says William Buxton, MD, neurologist and director of neuromuscular and neurodiagnostic medicine and fall prevention at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. in Santa Monica, California.
Vision disturbances more than double that risk, according to the CDC, which recommends that all older people have a dilated eye exam at least once a year to prevent irreversible vision loss and to update your eyeglass prescription. if necessary.
And even mild hearing loss triples the risk of an accidental fall, according to a February 2013 study in theInternal Medicine Archives.
“There are several reasons why, the main one being that hearing loss makes people less aware of their surroundings, so that they may not notice something like a pet or an object nearby,” explains the Dr Buxton. “But if you’re trying to hear, your brain is using all of its energy trying to interpret speech, so it doesn’t pay as much attention to your balance.”
As a result, you are more likely to trip and ultimately fall.
If you do fall, here’s what to do, Ciolek says:
- Try not to panic. Take a few deep breaths until you calm down.
- If you can get up, roll onto your side, then slowly get on all fours and crawl to a chair. Put your hands on the seat so that you are on your knees, then slowly get up and turn your body to sit on the chair. This will prevent you from getting up too quickly, which may make you feel dizzy and fall back down.
- If you appear injured – in pain, hit your head, or feel dizzy or nauseous – call 911.
- Even if you are feeling well, it is still a good idea to call your doctor. They can ask you questions over the phone and determine if you should be assessed in their office.