Senior Fall Prevention

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among seniors 65 years of age and older. Falls are also the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for seniors, threatening their independence, mobility, and safety. Staggering statistics related to falls among seniors makes senior fall prevention a priority for seniors and the loved ones of seniors. Many agencies and organizations, along with medical alert system providers, recognize the need for awareness, education and the need for prevention programs and strategies to reduce risk of falls in seniors.

Senior Fall Facts and Statistics

Although people of all ages experience falls, seniors are at particular risk of falls, including falls that result in potentially serious, even life-altering injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in four seniors experiences at least one fall every year. One in five falls among seniors result in serious injuries, such as broken bones or head injuries. Other statistics related to falls among seniors show that more than three million seniors receive treatment at emergency departments every year due to a fall and that 800,000 individuals are admitted to the hospital after experiencing a fall. Advancing age plays a significant role in falls among seniors. Seniors that are 75 years of age and older that fall are five times more likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility for at least a year, compared to younger seniors, aged 65 through 74 years of age.

Types of Injuries From Falls

Men are more likely to die from a fall, compared to a woman that experiences a fatal fall. MedicineNet explains that in 1999, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun died after complications from hip surgery due to a fall at home. The fall and subsequent death of the 90-year-old Supreme Court Justice is just one example of how advancing age potentially contributes to a greater risk of serious injury among seniors that experience a fall. Up to 30 percent of seniors that fall experience a hip fracture, hip lacerations or head trauma. In fact, falls are the most-common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Falls account for the majority of all fractures occurring in the senior population. Examples of these fractures, in addition to hip fractures, include fractures of the spine, pelvis, legs, ankles, upper arms, hands, and forearms. Although men have a greater risk of dying from a fall, compared to women, elderly women are more likely to experience a serious injury.

Reasons That Seniors Are at Risk of Falls

There are several reasons that contribute to the high numbers of seniors that fall. Difficulties with balance, walking and lower body weakness increase the risk of falling. Gait and balance changes due to the aging process are not the only ways that that this issue increases the risk of falling. Certain medical conditions that affect gait and balance, such as Parkinson’s disease increase the risk of falling. Osteoporosis, the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density increases the risk of a fall resulting in a hip fracture. Foot pain and wearing poorly fitting footwear also contribute to senior falls. Other causes include Vitamin D deficiency and side effects of some prescription medications and over-the-counter medications. Do you or a senior loved one have vision issues caused by cataracts, myopia or another issue? Falls occur more frequently among seniors with vision issues. Disorders of the spine, including sciatica and spinal stenosis also potentially increase the risk of seniors experiencing a fall. Joint and muscle disorders increase the likelihood of falling. There are environmental issues that contribute to falls, such as wet or uneven floors, poor lighting, unstable furniture and hazards such as throw rugs, pets and steps.

What to Do When a Fall Occurs

Seniors that fall should take specific steps that possibly reduces the risk of further injury. The first step, as hard as it likely sounds, is to not panic. Panicking potentially prevents you from accurately assessing the situation after your fall. Do you have a medical alert system? Follow procedures and make notification right away. Medical alert systems are of great assistance when a fall occurs. If you cannot get up, do not risk further damage or injury by attempting to force yourself to stand. If you decide to try to get up, roll to one side, and then slowly pull yourself up on all fours, until you are on your hands and knees. If there is no sturdy object nearby, crawl to a sturdy object. Push on the object with your hands, supporting your body weight with your hands and slowly rise to a sitting position on the steps or sturdy piece of furniture. Remain seated until confident that you can stand. It is a good idea to always be checked out at your doctor’s office or hospital emergency room when you fall, even if you think you do not have injuries. Many injuries do not exhibit symptoms right away.

Prevention Exercise and Activities

When seniors engage in certain prevention exercises and activities, they likely decrease their risk of falling. Increasing strength, flexibility, and balance likely helps seniors improve stability and walking. Consider Tai Chi or yoga, popular activities that do not require difficult, painful movements that sometimes lead to seniors avoiding regular exercise. Enjoy bicycling and reduce your risk of falling while increasing the strength in your legs. While seniors often fear falling, failing to engage in regular exercise and activities potentially results in further physical decline, social isolation, feelings of helplessness and depression among seniors, explains the National Council on Aging.

Prevention Checklists and Risk Assessments

Seniors can take a number of precautions to prevent falls.
  • Exercise regularly. Do exercises that will increase leg strength, improve balance and increase flexibility. Consider Tai Chi, yoga, and bicycling.
  • Review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist. You'll want to reduce or eliminate those that cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Lower your hip fracture risk by getting daily-recommended levels of calcium and vitamin D. and get screened and treated for osteoporosis.
  • Move furniture that's in your way. Use double-sided tape so throw rugs won't slip.
  • Pick up items that are on the floor. Coil telephone and electrical wires next to the wall.
  • Keep items off the stairs. Fix loose or uneven steps.
  • Make sure your stairway is lighted and have switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.
  • Make sure stair carpeting is secure.
  • Make sure stair handrails are secure and that they're on both sides the entire length of the stairs.
  • Consider a walk in tub to ensure easy entrance and exit.
  • When using a ladder, make sure both feet and at least one hand are on the ladder.
  • Consider buying an alarm you can activate in the event of a fall.
  • Get up slowly when lying down or sitting, making sure that your path is free from clutter and obstacles.
  • Make sure items in the kitchen are within reach. Do you use a step stool in the kitchen? Make sure it is stable before each use.
  • Place a non-slip mat or strips inside your shower or bathtub to help prevent falls. Installing grab bars further decreases the risk of falling.
  • Use a night light in your bedroom. Make sure there is enough light for you to see inside the bedroom and along the way to the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Do you have throw rugs or loose carpeting? Secure the loose carpeting and use double-sided tape on rugs so that they do not slip.
  • See an optometrist or ophthalmologist at least annually to make sure that you do not have vision issues that increase your risk of falling.

Medical Alert Devices

Medical alert devices potentially offer considerable benefits and reassurance when a senior falls or is at risk of falling. The AARP revealed one incident where a woman received a call from the medical alert company operator as she made breakfast one morning. She had not heard her husband calling her from upstairs after a fall and pushed his emergency alert pendant. The woman rushed upstairs and discovered her husband bleeding profusely after hitting his head on the doorframe of the bedroom door. This example highlights the considerable benefits of having a medical alert device. Leah Bellman, M.S., occupational therapist and stroke rehabilitation specialist stated in a Consumer Reports article that anyone at risk of experiencing a fall or experiencing another type of medical emergency might benefit from having a medical alert device. There are several types of medical alert devices, including the pendant style, and speakerphone medical alert systems. Other medical alert systems include cellular medical alert systems, phone/medical alert combination and the activity tracker. We explain how each of these work in ‘Medical Alert Systems for Seniors.' How do you know which medical alert system is the best option? Making a decision on the ideal medical alert system depends on several factors, including the variety of features, service options and costs that make a particular system the right choice for your needs. One important fact to note is that many experts agree that simply relying on a Smartphone is not enough. Most seniors do not have their phone with them at all times, leaving open the possibility of falling and not having the phone with them. Decide whether you want a system that operates strictly with your landline telephone, or prefer mobile medical alert devices. The system you choose needs to have a fall detection or prevention feature, probably the most common reason that seniors choose a medical alert system. Make sure you choose a device that allows you to push a button to call for help, which connects you to either a live operator or emergency services such as police or medics. GPS monitoring and location tracking is important for active seniors that drive or that enjoy walking or hiking and risk a fall. Check how waterproof a medical alert system is before purchasing the system. You want to be able to wear it in the shower or bathtub. Medical monitoring and activity monitoring are additional features that make a medical alert device an ideal option for seniors at risk of falling. Costs of medical alert devices vary. Make sure the company you purchase a medical alert device from has no hidden fees, or complicated pricing plans. Never fall for an offer of purchasing used medical alert device equipment. Seniors are at an increased risk of falling, compared to younger people. Medical alert devices help seniors have more confidence, with many companies offering outstanding fall prevention and detection features, monitoring and excellent customer services.

Summary

Senior fall prevention should be a serious topic for seniors and those with seniors in their lives. The statistics show that the problem is real and it can be serious. Fortunately, you can mitigate the risks with some preventative measures at home and exercise to strengthen your balance. To see ways to make your home life easier and safer, see our Assistive Technology Devices article.