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What’s all the Fuss about Falls?

older person walking with walker

During the Fall Equinox we obverse National Fall Prevention Day. But why all the fuss about falls in the elderly? Each year one in four older adults fall with one fifth of all falls resulting in serious injury including fracture or head injury.

These injuries can make it difficult for a person to resume their normal activities as well as prevent them from returning to independent living. Even if a fall doesn’t result in a serious injury, once a person has fallen, they are at a greater risk for falling again.

After a fall there may also be an increased fear of falling resulting in decreased activity levels. In turn, when activity levels are decreased this results in increased weakness which may increase the risk of falling.

Often times, the older adult doesn’t tell their doctor or family about the fall, fearing a loss of independence. But falls occur for a variety of reasons and after a fall it is important to understand why the person is falling and what can be done to decrease the risk.

So, why do older adults fall and what can be done to reduce their risk of falling? Seeking medical attention after a fall will help to address the reason for the fall. Once the physician identifies the possible causes of the fall and you may be referred to other healthcare providers for help to reduce the risk of falls.

There are four key areas to address to help reduce falls:

  • Environment
  • Medication
  • Vision
  • Exercise

Have your home checked for safety

Falls happen in a variety of settings, however the majority of falls happen at home. It is important to be sure that your home is not contributing to your fall risk. Lighting, such as Night Lights can help reduce the risk for falls as well as clearing pathways and having grab bars and handrails where needed.

The Department of Health in your community may provide free Home Assessments to determine risk and help correct them.

Talk to your Doctor

Although medications help treat many illnesses, taking four or more medications (including vitamins) increase the risk of falls. Be sure to speak with your medical provider to ensure you are taking the medication correctly and which ones might increase your risk for falls.

Have your vision checked

As you age, your vision can become limited making it difficult to get around safely in your environment. Be sure to have your vision checked regularly.

Do strength and balance exercises

As you age you can become less active and lose strength, especially in your legs. Regular exercise is important to maintain your strength and decrease the risk of falls. Tai Chi is an excellent form of exercise to maintain strength and balance.

Various studies have shown the effectiveness of Tai Chi on improving balance and strength in older adults. It can be performed in a sitting or standing position and does not require any special equipment. Tai Chi involves slow movement patterns that work on shifting weight and performing arm and legs movements together. This can help to improve balance.

References: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

This article was written by Sandy Macfarlane, PT, DPT, and Facility Director at Phoenix Physical Therapy in Bradford. She received her physical therapy degree from the University of Pittsburgh and her doctorate of physical therapy from Daemen College. She works with older adults on fall prevention through the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York.