Among older adults, falls are a common reason for trips to the emergency room (ER) and hospital. According to the National Council on Aging, every 13 seconds an older adult is seen in the ER for a fall-related injury, many of which are fall-related fractures.
According to the Centers of Disease Control:
- Falls cause most fractures (including severe injuries such as hip fractures) in older Americans
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury.
- Senior women are about twice as likely to suffer fall-related fractures.
- Senior men are more likely than women to die from a fall.
- Falls in seniors can lead to a greater fear of falling, which can lead to decreased physical activity and fitness, thus increasing the risk of future falls.
- Most falls can be prevented.
As a caregiver, you have the power to prevent your loved one from falling and help maintain his/her overall quality of life and independence.
What causes a fall?
Many falls are linked to physical conditions, medical problems, medications, or safety hazards in the home.
Fear of falling can make the problem worse
Because a fall can lead to a serious injury and a loss of independence, a fear of falling is common as people get older. Many people, who fall even if they aren’t injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear can cause them to limit activities, which can lead to a loss of physical mobility and actually increase their risk of falling.
Talk to your loved one's doctor
One in three adults 65 and older fall each year, but less than half talk to their doctor about it. If your loved one has fallen, be sure to tell their provider even if your loved one isn’t hurt. Many causes of falls can be treated or prevented. Your loved ones omay suggest changes to medications or eyewear prescriptions. Depending on the cause of the fall, the provider may suggest physical therapy or using a walking aid.
Five helpful tips to prevent falls
1. Talk to your loved one’s health care provider about taking a falls assessment and share your loved one’s fall history. It is important to describe the frequency, time, and potential causes (e.g. dizziness, tripping, and weak legs).
2. Review your loved one’s medications with a doctor or pharmacist. People who take four or more medications are at a greater risk of falling. Some medications may cause side effects, such as dizziness, light headedness, and muscle weakness – all of which can lead to an increased risk of falls. It is important to regularly discuss these concerns with a healthcare provider in case medications adjustments need to be made.
3. Find a good exercise or balance program Exercise helps prevent falls by strengthening your muscles and improving balance (Tai Chi programs are especially good).
4. Have your loved one’s eyesight checked regularly. It is recommended to have eyesight checked yearly. Ask your loved one’s doctor if he or she needs glasses or make sure his/her prescription is still correct.
5. Six out of ten falls happen in the home. Make your home safer by:
- Making sure there are clear pathways in each room.
- Removing loose rugs or attach rugs to the floor with double-sided tape.
- Moving any cords or wires next to the wall so no one can trip over them.
- Keeping stairs and steps free of objects and clutter.
- Always using the hand rail when using the stairs.
- Placing a lamp close to the bed so it’s within easy reach.
- Using a night light when walking to the bathroom.
- Using a light bulb changer to change overhead light bulbs.
- Avoiding the use of step stools.
Maintaining bone health may prevent fractures
Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which bones become brittle and fragile due to loss of bone tissue. Typically, this is a result of hormonal changes, or a deficiency in calcium or Vitamin D. This condition makes bones thin and brittle, and more likely to break. In fact, it’s a major reason why women past menopause experience fractures. For someone who has osteoporosis, even a minor fall can cause a fracture.
Helpful Signs to Watch for:
- Bones that break easily
- Unexplained bone or joint pain
- Height loss or stooping
Women and men who have experienced a fracture due to osteoporosis are 20 times more likely to have another. Studies show that one out of five of those fractures will happen within one year of the previous fracture. If you, or a loved one, have had a recent fracture, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible to assess the need for a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test or medication.
Osteoporosis is treatable. Besides calcium, vitamin D, and lifestyle changes, there are medications that may reduce the chance of a fracture by 50%.
What is a bone mineral density (BMD) test?
A BMD test measures how much calcium and other types of minerals are in an area of your bone. This test helps your health care provider detect osteoporosis and predict your risk of bone fractures
You should have bone mineral testing or screening if you have an increased risk of osteoporosis.
You are more likely to get osteoporosis if you are a woman aged 65 or older or a man aged 70 or older.
Loved ones may be at increased risk of osteoporosis if they have any of the following:
- Have a broken bone caused by normal activities, such as a fall from standing height or lower
- Have rheumatoid arthritis or chronic kidney disease
- Have early menopause
- Have had a significant loss of height due to compression fractures of the back
- Have a strong family history of osteoporosis
- Take corticosteroid medicines (prednisone or methylprednisolone) every day for more than 3 months
- Have three or more drinks of alcohol a day on most days
If your loved one is at increased risk of osteoporosis, current practice recommendations are BMD re-testing every two years. However, this may vary by individual. Talk to your doctor about how often you should be tested.