Falls are a major risk of injury, fatal or otherwise, for the elderly. A large number of health issues and debilitating conditions are caused by falls. In this article, we will discuss about why it is important to be as careful as possible to prevent a fall and how you can reduce the likelihood of falls for your loved ones through fall risk education for elderly.
Fall Risk Education for Elderly
As a care giver, it is your responsibility to make the elderly understand the risks of fall in their daily activities, how to use certain devices to minimize that risk and how to react in the unfortunate circumstance of a fall.
Some Fall Statistics
Falls are very common among the elderly. The following statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are quite scary and underline the importance of recognizing falls as dangerous, to say the least.
- In older adults aged over 65 years, 25 per cent of the population experiences at least one fall every year
- Even more astounding is the fact that every 11 seconds an elderly person is treated in the emergency care for a fall
- Tragic as it is, every 19 minutes, an older adult succumbs to her injuries due to a fall. Not surprisingly, a large proportion of the deaths occur due to severe head injuries
Without doubt, falls are the single major cause of fatality and non-fatal trauma in the elderly.
What causes the elderly to fall?
As we age, our sensory abilities gradually reduce. Often, we develop musculoskeletal issue which result in hand tremors and limb instability. And finally, we may be suffering from partial or full immobility. While all these factors can be a cause for falls, the most common ones are as below:
- Heart conditions like a stroke which results in a blackout and consequent collapse
- Slippery bathrooms are a major cause of falls
- Weak or unstable lower body from paralysis or any other musculoskeletal conditions
- Partial loss of eyesight and hearing impairment are major reasons for a fall
- Poor lighting at home and rugs with loose ends
- Low blood pressure conditions which may lead to dizziness if you get up quickly from a prolonged period of seating or lying down
- Raised platforms between two rooms, one of them frequently being a bathroom
- Finally, the elderly are often dependent on a lot of medication. Some medicines can cause dizziness or cause an upset in body balance
Why is it important to prevent falls in the elderly?
For the elderly, falls can be fatal, or they may lead to traumatic injury or a fracture, or if you are among a lucky few, you can get away with a fall without any injury. But even then, mentally you will develop a fear of falling, which may restrict your lifestyle. You would start avoiding activities like going out for a morning walk, and eventually increase risks of co-morbidities due to a sedentary lifestyle. Besides, the financial burden on the healthcare system in the U.S. can also be substantially reduced by preventing falls in the elderly as much as possible. Fall victims invariably end up in the emergency or the intensive care unit leading to large medical bills.
Where do most falls occur in the elderly?
Having listed out the most common reasons behind falls, it is important to note that most falls happen on a flat surface where the person is least expecting a blockade. You may be extra careful on a wet and slippery surface or on the stair by holding onto the railings, however, due to partial loss of eyesight you may miss something on a level surface and trip on it. It has been observed that elderly men have a high occurrence of falling in the garden or while gardening, which may not be as dangerous, given more chances of hitting a softer surface. While older women have been seen to fall more frequently within homes, mostly due to low light, unexpected slippery surfaces or failing vision.
How can you reduce the risk of falls in the elderly?
Depending on the relevance of the major reasons in your case, the risk of falls in the elderly can be minimized in two ways – 1. Individual health, fitness and training and 2. De-risking your home to reduce chances of a fall.
- Individual health, fitness and training:
- It pays to be as physically active as possible in your old age through light physical form of exercises like yoga and jogging. Regular exercise will go a long way in strengthening your lower body muscles and prevent cardio-vascular diseases as well as musculoskeletal conditions. This will significantly reduce your chances of a fall due to dizziness or stroke – the two most lethal reasons behind falls in the elderly.
- Moreover, you will be well advised to get your eyesight checked regularly and use corrective measures like lenses and spectacles to restore your eyesight as much as possible.
- In case you are mobility challenged it is always a good idea to take support of crutches or wheelchair to move around.
- Always get enough sleep so that you do not feel disoriented during the day
- Consult your physician immediately if any of your medication is making you feel dizzy or light-headed. Often, there are alternatives to that medicine that your physician can prescribe. And better still, you may not need that medication anymore
- If you are prone to low blood pressure, always try and get up slowly from a supine or sitting position to avoid sudden dizziness.
- It is definitely a good idea to make your home as fall proof as possible. A few things that can be done are as follows:
- Remove unnecessary raised platforms between rooms
- Restrict water-spill from shower area of the bathroom; If there is a spill, ensure that you clean and dry it immediately. A very effective solution for slippery surfaces is to wear a rubber soled anti-skid slipper at home
- Install railings and support rods as frequently as possible in your home and wherever necessary, like staircases and bathrooms and showers.
- Install enough lights so that no area is dark.
- All electrical, cable or cords should be neatly rolled up, tied and placed in corners to avoid them being in somebody’s way. Also, you should not be keeping loose rug ends and rug ends should be evened out with the floor as much as possible.
How an elderly person can get up after a fall?
For the elderly, getting up after a fall is an arduous task. If the fall is on a hard surface, there is a high chance that the person will be unconscious or stunned and she would require emergency assistance. In the fortunate event that she has been spared any serious injury, it is still difficult for her to get up due to likely weakness in joints and muscles.
You should always have emergency numbers stored in one-key dialing mode on your phone for such emergencies.
As a care giver, you should emphasize the following steps to be followed while rising after a fall:
- Try to get a hang of your injuries, if any. If you are in serious pain, you should not try and get up, rather call for help.
- You should not try and stand on your own. Carefully evaluate your lower body strength and assess whether you can lift yourself up using support and sustain your weight. If yes, look around for a sturdy support like a railing or heavy piece of furniture
- Slowly move towards the support and lift your upper body first. If there is a chair nearby you should move towards it, to avoid your lower body bearing your full body weight. Rest for some time before being on your feet
You should discuss the fall with your care giver and physician for them to assess your post-fall health. Also, as a care giver, you should analyze the cause of your fall and take steps to prevent such situations in the future.
Elderly fall prevention devices
Fall risk can be significantly reduced by adopting the use of a range of fall prevention devices available for elderly support. From protective wearables, mobility aids, installable supports to non-slip footwear and bathroom aides, fall prevention devices and supports can help your elderly loved one navigate those tricky years of life safely.
- Mobility aids: Depending on your stage of mobility challenge, you may invest in a cane or a quad cane. If you can stand but find it difficult to walk, you may want to use a walker or a rollator. In case, you are temporarily not being able to walk or severely mobility challenged, a wheelchair may be the right device for you. Mobility aids are extremely reliable in preventing falls or at least reducing the likelihood in a vast number of scenarios.
- Bathroom aids and support bars: Bathing aids like shower chairs take out the risk of falling due to slippery baths and so does a good quality bath or shower mat. Support bars installed at the right places in the bathroom also go a long way to reduce fall risks by lending your ready support through your bathroom routine. Toilet aids like a safety frame for the commode or a raised toilet seat with handles are good accessories that provide support while using the toilet.
- Protective wearables and footwear: A large number of falls result in hip fractures. This can be prevented if you are wearing a hip protector or hipster – a padded hip guard that absorbs the impact of your fall. While this prevents injury from falling, non-slip socks with grip reduce the likelihood of falling on plain surfaces and while climbing stairs.
- Installable supports: These are railings and bars which you should look at installing throughout your home to allow for the elderly to take support by holding onto one whenever possible. Examples include railings on staircases and passages, as also on walkways in the garden or just outside your home
All of us have been hearing this from our childhood, that, prevention is better than cure. There is probably no better example where this fits perfectly. Falls can be prevented by a combination of methods and devices that we have discussed above and goes a long way towards maintaining an active lifestyle for your elderly loved one. All of us should be aware of these methods and implement them as and when required to minimize the instances of falls – a menace for the elderly.