The first day of fall is known as National Falls Awareness Day.
We know that our bodies change as we age, but falling is not a part of the normal aging process and the majority of falls are preventable. Unfortunately according to the CDC millions of older adults, those over 65 years, fall each year. In fact, one out of four older adults falls each year, but less than half actually tell their doctor. Falling is the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for people over 65 years of age. Injuries can include hip fractures or other broken bones and traumatic brain injuries which can lead to long-term health issues and an increased likelihood of future falls. Even experiencing a fall without an injury can make older adults fearful or depressed and cause them to decrease their activity level which also elevates their fall risk.
As most falls are preventable, below are some of the common factors leading to falls in the older population:
- Decreased balance and strength - our strength and balance decrease as we age, it is important to keep mobile and incorporate leg strengthening exercises and balance activities into our daily routine to stay strong.
- Poor vision or vision changes - our balance is assisted by our reliance on our eyes to tell us about the world around us. It’s important for older adults to have regular vision screenings to be sure their eyes are functioning normally and their eyeglass prescription is up to date.
- Medications - most older adults are on several different medications and many of those can cause side effects of dizziness and even dehydration. It’s important to continue to talk to your doctor about which medications are necessary to continue and make modifications as needed.
- Incontinence Issues - frequent trips to the bathroom, especially at night can increase an older adults risk of falling.
- Environmental factors - there are lots of potential fall hazards both in the home and community. Simple modifications in the home can go a long way to helping to reduce fall risk. Some suggestions are removing throw rugs, using night lights in hallways and bathrooms, installing railings on stairs, utilizing shower chairs and hand-held showers, and installing grab bars in the bathroom.
- Chronic conditions - having chronic conditions such as diabetes mellitus, stroke, arthritis and neuropathy can impact a person’s overall mobility, strength and balance which increases their fall risk.
Physical therapy can help older adults reduce their fall risk by addressing strength, mobility, and balance deficits. The therapist can also evaluate and educate individuals on their fall risk and provide education on modifications to their home environment. Contact our office to schedule an evaluation and fall risk assessment.
For more information on fall risk and how to stay independent check out these links:
Falls Free Check Up: https://ncoa.org/article/falls-free-checkup
Bergen G, Stevens MR, Burns ER. Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged ≥65 Years — United States, 2014.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:993–998. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6537a2
Stevens JA, Ballesteros MF, Mack KA, Rudd RA, DeCaro E, Adler G. Gender differences in seeking care for falls in the aged Medicare Population. Am J Prev Med 2012;43:59–62.
O’Loughlin J et al. Incidence of and risk factors for falls and injurious falls among the community-dwelling elderly. American journal of epidemiology, 1993, 137:342-54.
Jennifer Buono, PT, DPT