Risk Factors and Prevention
We all know that our risk of falling increases with age, but did you know that 2/3’s of those who experience a fall will fall again within six months? This increased risk may be due to a decrease in bone density, a lack of exercise resulting in poor muscle tone, decreased strength, and loss of bone mass and flexibility, or even environmental hazards in the home.
In our article, David Tranchita, MA, PT, OCS, CMTPT, CSCS, describes common causes of fall-related injuries. Plus, he shares prevention tips for avoiding falls for older adults who are most at risk for fall-related injuries.
The causes of falls are known as risk factors. Although no single risk factor causes all falls, the greater the number of risk factors an individual has, the greater the probability of a fall and the more likely the fall will threaten a person’s independence.
Osteoporosis is a main cause of fractures in older adults, especially women. It’s debatable whether brittle bones break after a fall, or break when stressed, and in turn cause a fall. In either event, a decrease in bone density contributes to falls and injuries. Osteoporosis Prevention Tips: 1) Eat or drink sufficient calcium and supplement it with vitamin D. Postmenopausal women need 1,500 mg of calcium daily. Calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, cheese, fish, shellfish, and selected vegetables such as broccoli, soybeans, collard greens, turnip greens, tofu, and almonds. 2) Get sufficient vitamin D to enhance the absorption of calcium into the bloodstream. Vitamin D is formed naturally in the body after exposure to sunlight, but some older adults may need a supplement. 3) Regularly do weight-bearing/strengthening exercises.
#2: Lack of Physical Activity
Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased strength, and loss of bone mass and flexibility. All contribute to falls and the severity of injury due to falls. Prevention Tips: 1) Engage regularly (e.g., every other day for about 20 minutes daily) in exercise designed to increase muscle and bone strength and improve balance and flexibility. Many people enjoy walking and swimming. 2) Undertake safe daily activities, such as reaching and bending without straining, taking time to recover balance when rising from a chair or bed, learning the proper way to fall, and learning how to recover after a fall. 3) Wear proper-fitting, supportive shoes with low heels or rubber soles.
#3: Impaired Vision
Age-related vision diseases can increase the risk of falling. Cataracts and glaucoma alter depth perception, visual acuity, peripheral vision, and susceptibility to glare. These limitations hinder a person’s ability to safely navigate their environment, whether in their home or a shopping mall. Young people use visual cues to perceive an imminent fall and take corrective action. Older adults with visual impairments do not have this advantage. Have regular checkups by an ophthalmologist to discern the extent of age-related eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma.
Sedatives, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotic drugs can contribute to falls by reducing mental alertness, worsening balance, and gait, and causing drops in systolic blood pressure while standing. Additionally, people taking multiple medications are at greater risk of falling. TIP: Talk with your physician or pharmacist about ways to reduce your chances of falling by using the lowest effective dosage, regularly assessing the need for continued medication, and the need for walking aids while taking medication that affects balance.
Tips to Prevent Fall-Related Injuries
— Maintain physical activity such as gardening, dancing, walking, and swimming.
— Engage in an exercise program such as weight training, Tia Chi, yoga, pilates, or an aquatic class.
— Wear supportive, wide shoes with non-skid soles.
— Keep stairs and hallways well-lit, and use night lights around the house.
— Get rugs with non-skid backing and remove all throw rugs. Tack down edges.
— Clear pathways and hallways of clutter and electrical cords.
— Use sturdy hand railings on both sides of all staircases and adhere non-slip treads on all stairs and steps.
— Rearrange furniture to provide adequate walking space in each room of the house.
— When getting up after sitting for a long period, be cautious and stand for a minute before taking a step. You may get lightheaded or dizzy.
— Have grab bars put in your bathtub, shower, and toilet areas
— Use raised toilet seat or commode if having difficulty getting up from a seated position.
— Use slip-resistant strips or rubber mats in the tub and/ or shower.
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