Fall Prevention for Seniors

Falls present a major problem in the health and independence of elders over 65. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than one third of older adults fall each year. Of these 20-30% will result in hospitalization from head injury or hip fracture. Many will need to spend at least a year recovering in a long-term facility and some never return to their homes. Most falls are preventable.

There are numerous risk factors that lead to falls. As we age our balance and speed of gait decrees. When we walk too fast or when we don’t pick up our toes we put our selves at risk. Some senior citizens have assistive devises such as canes or walkers that they do not use. Some elders get very limited exercise or practice only one form of exercise such as walking or lifting weights or practicing yoga or Tai Chi. We often don’t realize that maintain good strength and balance requires a combination of all of these forms of exercise.

There are other factors that put one at risk for falls. These include decreased vision and hearing, multiple medications, foot problems, and unsafe home, and fear of falling.


Vision Issues

Decreased vision may result from cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma. As we age we experience reduced contrast sensitivity and we may not see the edges that mark the changes in surfaces. Sometimes we do not see steps or cracks in sidewalks. We may have glasses with outdated prescriptions or need increased lightening. There are many simple things we can do to make things easier to see. Mark abrupt edges with contrasting tape. Use additional lightening from a small lamp when writing checks or cooking food. Keep walkways and steps clear of clutter. Put bells on pets.


Foot Issues

Some elders have problems with their feet. Proper fitting shoes can increase mobility and can assist in the correction of some foot problems. Open-backed shoes or slippers can be hazardous and cause falls. Make sure that your shoes are wide enough, and that the bottoms are not too slick. High heels should be avoided. Good fitting shoes are not only comfortable but support us in the things that we want to do.


Medication Issues

Many senior citizens take multiple medications several times each day. The average senior takes ten different medications that are prescribed by different physicians. Some drugs interact with other prescription drugs, with over the counter drugs (OTC), with herbal supplements or alcohol. Some prescription bottles are hard to open or their labels may be difficult to read. Some older persons forget to take medications.

There are several things that you can do. Purchase all of your medications from the same pharmacy. Ask for easy to open bottles with extra large printed labels. Read the information that comes with your prescriptions or over the counter medications. If you have any questions about new medications or a change in the dosage of medications, ask your health care provider or pharmacist. Carry a list of the medications that you take in your wallet and post a list on your refrigerator. Senior citizens play an important role in identifying and preventing problems by understanding the medications that they use.


Home Safety

60% of falls occur at home and many falls can be prevented by making modifications to your home before they are needed. Use a non-skid mat in your shower or tub and have grab bars to hold as you get in and out of the tub. Use a shower chair and a shower extension. Make sure there a light switch, a flashlight and a phone near your bed. Have something sturdy to hold on to when you get out of bed.

The following are questions that are important in keeping your home safe. Do you have smoke detectors that have working batteries? Are their light switches at the top and bottom of the inside stairs? Are there sturdy handrails and a non-slip surface on the surface of stairs? Can you turn on a light without having to walk into a dark living room? Are passageways free from objects and clutter? Have you put away small rugs and runners that move or slide? Are emergency phone numbers posted near the phone? Are stove controls easy to see and reach? Are regularly used items within easy reach without climbing, bending or reaching? Do you have non-skid rugs?


Fear of Falling

Fear of falling becomes more pronounced as we age. When we are afraid of falling we limit exercise thus decreasing our strength, mobility and flexibility. We limit outings and decrease social contact. It becomes self fulfilling prophecy.

There are several things you can do. Learn to get up off the floor. Set up a buddy system and have a friend of family member call you each day. Know when you are taking a risk like climbing a ladder or going out on an icy day. One can purchase a medical alert system that allows you to activate an alarm by pressing a button on a pendant or arm bracelet. The alarm alerts a trained profession that contacts family or emergency personnel. If you have fallen several times, contact your doctor. He / she may have suggestions of things you might do

Community based programs are presented at senior centers that address fear of falling. Classes like yoga and Tai Chi provide gentle exercise that decreases falls. It is not possible to prevent all falls, but we can limit the number that happen.



Return to list of articles.