The leading cause of death, injury and hospital admissions among the elderly are falls. In fact, one out of three elderly people have a fall every year. Last year alone added up to more than 1.6 million older Americans spending time in the emergency room for fall-related injuries.
What are the signs that a loved one could be at risk for a fall? And what can you do to help prevent one in the future?
Here are some common things to watch out for that can lead to falls.
- Muscle weakness, particularly in the legs, can make your loved one more prone to falling. People with weak muscles tend to be most at risk.
- Balance and gait are important to watch. Does your loved one need help walking? Are they reaching out for walls to balance themselves?
- The blood pressure drop that occurs when standing after sitting or sleeping can be very dangerous. It may also be linked to certain medications, or neurological conditions like Parkinson’s or diabetes.
- Slower reflexes occur as we age. This can cause us to react more slowly when we lose balance and try to catch ourselves in time.
- Worsening or undetected vision problems can also be a risk factor. Keeping consistent eye appointments are especially important because weakening eyesight, cataracts and glaucoma can affect balance.
- Medication side effects can cause dizziness and loss of balance. The more medications you take, the more likely it is that you’re at risk of falling.
- Confusion, even briefly, can lead to a fall. If you wake up in an unfamiliar environment and are unsure of where you are, your mind may not be clear enough to keep you steady on your feet. If your loved one is experiencing any level of dementia, this is especially true, and it's better to address concerns early on before a crisis occurs.
How to help prevent falls from happening
If you or your loved one is at risk for a fall, there are steps you can take to lower the likelihood of having one. An important first step is to begin a conversation about what puts them at risk and how to prevent a fall from happening in the future. It’s smart to be proactive and begin a discussion about falls and how to stay safe.
Here are some additional tips:
- Enlist the help of a healthcare provider.
Together with a doctor, your loved one can assess fall risks and make sure their medications aren’t causing some of the problems. The doctor can also suggest programs or services that can help them stay safe and healthy, such as physical therapy or strength-building exercises.
- Discuss their current health conditions. Is your loved one having difficulty managing their own health? Are they remembering to take their medications properly? Encourage them to speak openly with you and their doctor about any struggles they might be experiencing as they age.
- Ask about their last eye checkup.If your loved one wears glasses, ask about the last time they had their prescription updated.
- Notice how they’re walking or getting up. Is getting out of the chair becoming more difficult? Are they holding onto a wall, furniture or someone else while walking? These are all signs that it may be time to see a physical therapist; this can help improve walking and balance through light exercise. They may also suggest the need for a cane or walker and provide guidance on how to use them properly.
- Do a safety assessment of the home.Increase lighting throughout their home, especially on stairs. Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairways. Install grab bars around bathroom toilets and in the shower. Installing a shower chair and grip mat is also a good idea.