Senior citizens get fractures from falling more than anything else. Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury in senior citizens. Once a senior falls the first time, it generally leads to a greater fear of falling which leads to decreased activity which increases the chances that a senior will fall again due to muscle weakness. Falling cost us about $34 billion in direct medical costs in 2010, according to the CDC.
We often associate falling and stumbling with aging, but the truth is that elderly people do not fall down simply because they are elderly. According to the National Council on Aging, “falling is not an inevitable result of aging.” There are underlying causes, such as medical conditions, physical disabilities, and chronic diseases, which tend to exacerbate the risk of safety hazards and obstacles in the elderly person’s environment.
Here are some risk factors (i.e., factors that contribute to the risk of falling):
- Lower body muscle weakness: As we age, our muscles tend to lose strength and vitality. Weakness in our lower body makes us less able to stand or walk.
- Vitamin D deficiency: Vitamin D is essential to growing and maintaining strong bones. Without it, we can develop bone diseases that make us brittle and susceptible to ankle breaks among other things.
- Poor balance or gait: Walking technique should be balanced and proper. If you are not using your hips, legs, and feet as they are designed to be used, you risk falling.
- Postural hypotension: This is a scientific term referring to the light-headedness or dizziness you feel when standing up too fast or from other changes in posture. Scientists connect this to Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes, and infections.
- Changing reflexes: If you fail to recognize that your reflexes have slowed, then you will take unwise risks when moving and you may not be able to catch yourself before you fall.
- Improper Footwear: Certain kinds of shoes are difficult to balance on, such as backless shoes and slippers, high-heeled shoes, and shoes with smooth soles.
- Sensory problems: If you can not see, you should not be walking. Blurred vision is often caused by glaucoma and cataracts in the elderly. If you can not hear what is going on around you, be careful. If your feet or hands are numb, you will not be able to trust your steps.
- Temporary confusion: We have all awakened in unfamiliar places and took a moment to remember where we were. It is okay to do this if you are walking and suddenly forget where you are. Relax. Take a moment. Wait for loved ones if necessary.
- Side effects from medicine: According to the National Institutes of Health, the more medications you take, the likelier you are to fall. Contraindications of medicine often include dizziness and unsteadiness. Be especially wary of the lingering effects of tranquilizers, sedatives, and antidepressants.
- Household hazards: These include loose rugs, clutter, broken or uneven steps in a staircase, no handrails in the bathroom, no guardrails outside the house, no banister in the staircase, water on any hard floors.
Here are a few tips to prevent falls:
- Strategize: Ask yourself the right questions. Have you fallen before? Take note of the conditions that led to it. Include times that you almost fell but caught yourself or someone else caught you.
- Exercise: Walking, water workouts, and Tai Chi are common exercise programs that can strengthen your legs and hips allowing you to maintain balance and control when walking.
- Medicine: Review all medications for side effects and do not change medicines on your own without consulting others.
- Corrective Lenses: The best way to avoid tripping hazards is to see them first. If your vision is not sharp, wear corrective lenses.
- Clean home: Clear your home of all clutter and tripping hazards. Do not use throw rugs. Use non-slip bathtub mats. Clean all spills immediately.
- Home improvements: Install banisters and lights on all staircases. Put treads on the steps. Use a plastic seat in the tub and use a hand-held shower nozzle so that you can bathe sitting down. Make sure all lights in the house are bright enough that you can can clearly see in each room. Replace traditional light switches with ones that glow in the dark. Repair any loose flooring or carpeting.
- Do not place items on high shelves that require you to use a step stool to reach.
- Avoid slippers or walking barefoot. Always use shoes with soles that grip.
- Remove obstacles like coffee tables and houseplants from high traffic areas.
- Turn on stairwell lights before using the stairs.
- Place a lamp on your nightstand near your bed for getting up in the middle of the night.
- Store flashlights everywhere in case of power outages.