Falls are one of the major health concerns among the elderly.
Data from the World Health Organization reveals that each year, around 646,000 individuals globally die from falls — the majority of which are adults above 65 years of age.
In Australia, the average cost of a fall that involves an elderly is at $1,049 USD. Falls may also result in the “post-fall syndrome,” which severely affects an elder’s quality of life due to the constant fear of having a similar accident in the future.
(Image Source: HealthStats – NSW)
The good news is, falls are a highly preventable health issue. It starts with understanding the risk of falls and the effective countermeasures that home care providers, family members, and the elders themselves can implement.
Common Risk Factors Associated with Elderly Falls
As we age, the human body goes through changes that exponentially increases the risk of falls. This ranges from a weakening musculoskeletal system to vision problems that can make the elderly more vulnerable in hazardous environments.
To enable you to design effective prevention strategies, here are some of the specific risk factors for elderly falls:
Research indicates that individuals with medical conditions, including but not limited to arthritis, circulatory diseases, and diabetes are more likely to fall. Other conditions such as depression, dizziness, and incontinence are also widely observed.
The less active you become in your later years, the faster your muscles, bones, and joints wear out. This leads to decreased endurance and muscle strength — both of which are important in preventing a fall from common incidences, like slipping, tripping, and sudden loss of balance.
Another common symptom among elders who are at risk of falls, cognitive decline is when a person’s memory and thinking skills degrade with age. According to statistics, elders with dementia are twice as likely to fall than those who can be considered as cognitively stable.
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that elders who take benzodiazepines either in monotherapies or combined therapies are more likely to fall than non-takers. Benzodiazepines encompass drugs that are used for conditions that afflict seniors, including anxiety, convulsions, panic attacks, and insomnia.
Visual impairments such as contrast sensitivity, glaucoma, and macular degeneration all contribute to higher chances of falls. These conditions also result in the use of multifocal glasses, which can affect an elder’s ability to recognize and react to obstructions in the environment.
Lastly, external factors also can’t be ignored when it comes to understanding the risk factors of falling in elders. Poor lighting, slippery surfaces, uncomfortable footwear, misconfigured walking aids — everything that affects an elder’s ability to move and keep their balance must be factored in.
Apart from the risk factors above, numerous studies suggest that living in a nursing home makes an elder more susceptible to fall-related injuries. As a result, more people tend to lean towards residential care, which has significant benefits as long as the right methods are in place.
Creating a Fall Prevention Strategy
A fall prevention strategy requires home care services and family members to pay attention to an elder’s daily routine and their environment.
The information above should serve as a great starting point by identifying the risk factors that are currently present. When it comes to addressing them, below is a quick rundown of the steps you need to take:
1. Talk about the issue
Despite the prevalence of fall-related injuries, an elder can still be complacent — thinking that such an event is unlikely to happen to them. Even if they do acknowledge the risk, they may have a false sense of security that their body is strong enough to brush it off.
In turn, they become less willing to take a fall prevention strategy seriously. That’s why, as the carer, you need to win their support by sharing the facts while providing reassurance that all risk factors can be mitigated.
2. Discuss their current physical condition
Awareness is the key to a successful fall prevention strategy. The more you understand the elder’s physical health, the better your plans will pan out.
Ask the elder questions like:
- Are you currently on medication?
- When was the last time you had your eyes checked?
- What are the reasons for your latest hospital visits
3. Observe their movement
Other than questioning elders about their health, you must also conduct a firsthand observation of state. Notice patterns such as holding on to walls and furniture when walking, struggling to get up, or clumsiness when performing simple tasks, such as holding on to an object or eating.
Also be on the lookout for the early signs of cognitive impairment, such as forgetfulness, slurred speech, and the inability to focus. These symptoms could mean that the elder isn’t getting enough mental stimulation in their current lifestyle and environment.
4. Perform a safety assessment of their home
A licensed occupational therapist should be able to carry out a thorough safety assessment of the elder’s home. After which, they can provide a list of “fall-proofing” recommendations that will help provide a safer environment for the elder.
Some of the typical solutions include:
- Ensuring optimal lighting conditions throughout the home
- Installing grab bars in key locations, such as the bathroom and kitchen
- Adding handrails to both sides of stairs
- Moving supplies, such as flatware and toiletries, to easy-to-reach locations
- Use rubber-backed rugs to prevent slipping
- Leverage a smart home
- When choosing residential care, leveraging assistive technology can give you groundbreaking advantages for fall prevention.
Wearable medical alert systems, for example, will give seniors and carers the much-needed peace of mind. The same can be said for environmental sensors, live video surveillance systems, and smart home devices that allow elders to control household appliances.
What to Do After a Fall
As a failsafe, carers must be aware of what to do in case a senior does fall.
A common mistake is to help the elder stand up immediately after the accident. Don’t forget to check for injuries first while asking them to relax, take deep breaths, and point to where it hurts.
During the initial inspection, look specifically for swelling, skin discoloration, and other signs of serious injury.
If they seem fine, simply place a small chair beside them and let them get up in their own pace. Encourage them to roll carefully sideways and assist them as they try to kneel and climb onto the chair.
Regardless of the outcome, call or schedule a visit to a physician and have them checked for minor injuries. You should also not rule out the possibility of underlying illnesses that may have lead to the fall, including dehydration, pneumonia, strokes, and pneumonia.
Proper elder fall prevention always starts with the right information. With the information above, any person — be it a trained professional or a family member — can give competent care to an elder in need.
If you have any questions or suggestions regarding residential care and elder fall prevention, feel free to leave a comment below.