Did you know that one in four older Americans falls every year? Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.
Steps to Help Reduce Falls
Here are some steps to help:
- Address the fear of falling. Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt—even if they’ve already fallen in the past. The fear of falling can lead to a higher risk of falling because of limited exercise. If they’re concerned about falling, dizziness, or balance, suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider who can assess their risk and suggest physical therapy services that could help.
- Check your eyesight. Make sure prescriptions for glasses are current. Remember that using tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened rooms and bifocals can be problematic on stairs.
- Assess balance, gait and strength. Is a loved one holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking or if having difficulty walking or arising from a chair? These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist. A trained physical therapist can help improve balance, strength, and gait through exercise. They might also suggest a cane or walker—and provide guidance on how to use these aids. Poorly used aids can increase the risk of falling.
- Manage medications. If an older loved one is having a hard time keeping track of medicines or is experiencing side effects, encourage them to discuss their concerns with their doctor and pharmacist. Suggest that they have their medications reviewed each time they get a new prescription. Also, beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids—including painkillers with “PM” in their names. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness.
- Make the home safe and fall-proof. Remove trip hazards such as throw rugs, electrical cords, papers on the floor and have a clear path for walking. Use night lights and good lighting. Keep the path to the bathroom lit at night. Don’t use step ladders or stand on chairs. Don’t lean on furniture that isn’t sturdy and can move. Keep pets from under foot.
- Seek professional help. There are many programs and service available, often at no cost to you, to help make the home safer and reduce the fear and risk of falling.
(Source: National Council on Again, July 2019)