June 7, 2012

The risk of falling seems minor. After all, we’ve all fallen at some point in our lives. The aftermath is usually a small scrape and a bruised ego. But falls in the elderly are not just embarrassing. As we age, the risk of serious injury from falling goes up greatly. One in every three adults age 65 and over falls every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fall Risks for the Elderly

The majority of injuries in the elderly are caused by falls. Some of these injuries are minor cuts and scrapes. But between 20 and 30 percent of falls result in moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures or head trauma. Injuries from falls are the main cause of accidental death in older people: in 2008, more than 19,700 seniors died from injuries associated with falls, says the CDC.

What Causes Falls?

There are a number of factors that contribute to elderly slip and fall accidents. One is environmental hazards. About one-third of falls in the elderly involve environmental hazards in the home, according to a Colorado State University fact sheet. Most of these falls happen when seniors trip over objects on the floor, such as loose rug corners.

Another factor is the normal changes that come with aging. Worsening eyesight,  impaired balance, and osteoporosis can all make falls more likely.

Medication is another leading cause of falls in the elderly. Certain medications or combinations of medications can cause dizziness and balance problems. Some medications for depression and certain sedatives are two types of medication that can have these side effects, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How to Prevent Falls in the Elderly

Seniors cannot recover from a fall trauma as quickly or effectively as a younger person might. Besides the possibility of serious injury, there is the risk of serious psychological impact from a fall. According to the CDC, when an elderly person falls, it can lead them to develop a fear of falling. This fear causes them to limit their physical activity, which can in turn cause them to fall again.

Schedule a professional in home assessment to determine elderly fall risk and specific home care needs.

Elders and their caregivers can also take the following measures:

  •     Consult doctors or pharmacists to identify medications that may cause falls related to balance and dizziness, and discuss treatment options.
  •     Exercise regularly. Physical activities such as dancing, water activities, Tai Chi, and walking can help keep up balance and coordination.
  •     Wear sensible shoes such as tennis. House slippers are floppy and smooth-soled.
  •     Add lamps and nightlights to corners, bathrooms and stairways. If you can see it, you probably won’t trip over it.
  •     Install grab bars in bathrooms, and double handrails on stairways.
  •     Reduce hazards around the house such as raised carpet edges, magazine stands, coffee tables, and plants that can be tripping hazards.
  •     Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower, and non-slip treads on wooden stairs.
  •     Visit the doctor regularly to check for glaucoma, hearing loss, foot pain, or other problems that can cause balance problems.