More than one out of four people, age 65 and older, fall each year. Picture in your mind one in every four people you know, 65 and older, may have a fall this year, including you, your parents, grandparents or friends. Falls are likely to lead to long-term complications including hip fractures, decreased mobility, head injuries and even death. An individual’s quality of life and independence can be forever decreased as a result of a fall. Falls often cause a decline in self-care ability and participation in physical and social activities. The majority of falls are preventable and this topic is especially important in improving the quality of life for our senior population.
Many causes of falls are treatable. Common problems and hazards leading to a fall include difficulty walking or moving around, decreased balance, medications, foot problems or unsafe footwear, changes in blood pressure with changes in posture, difficulties with vision, presence of tripping hazards, such as throw rugs, and improper or lack of use of assistive devices.
It is important to talk to your provider about fall risk. Let your provider know if you worry about falling, feel unsteady, or if you have had a fall. Your provider can help by reviewing your medications and medical history, assessing gait and balance, testing your vision or referring you to an ophthalmologist, and addressing other medical conditions which may contribute to weakness, dizziness, loss of balance or decreased strength.
Medications can cause dizziness, low blood pressure, decreased vision and unsteady balance. When combined with the normal physiologic changes associated with normal aging, the impact of these medications can be magnified.
Medications that may increase risk for falls include pain medications, medications used to reduce high blood pressure or control heart rate, sedatives or sleep aids, medications for relief of bladder problems, allergies or dizziness, antidepressants or antianxiety medications, and insulin.
Discuss with your primary care provider your personal health conditions that may increase your risk for falling. Some include:
- Decreased Vision
- As we age, brighter light is often needed to see well. Glaucoma and cataracts become a concern with falls, as the vision is decreased. Annual vision testing is important in prevention of falls.
- Vitamin D Deficiency
- Low Vitamin D levels can cause muscle weakness and pains. Having low levels of vitamin D also decreases bone mineral density and bone strengths, leading to an increased risk for fracture.
- Urinary Tract Infection or Urinary Incontinence
- Bladder symptoms which cause a person to rise quickly, abruptly change position or gait, walk in poor lighting at night or walk without assistive device can increase the risk of a fall.
- Aging which can cause a decreased appetite or thirst, can lead to less fluid intake, which in turn can cause dizziness and drops in blood pressure.
- Poor Memory or Dementia
- As dementia progresses, a person can forget where they are, forget to use their cane, have increased problems with balance and lack judgement with safety, contributing to increased fall risk
- Complications of diabetes, such as neuropathy or decreased sensation in the feet, changes in vision and drops in blood pressure may increase the risk of falling.
The long-term effects and recovery from a fall may lead to serious health complications. People who have fallen may develop a fear of falling that robs them of their self-confidence. As a result, they may stay at home and give up their normal enjoyable activities, such as shopping, visiting friends, exercising and cleaning. When people become less active, joints can become stiff and muscles can become weak. Stiff joints and weak muscles can further increase the risk of falling. After a serious fall, and during the recovery process, the chance of developing pressure sores, infection, blood clots, pneumonia and depression increases.,
There are many steps you may take to protect yourself and your loved ones by preventing a fall:
- Staying physically active
- Taking all medications as prescribed and discussing the side effects with your provider
- Eating healthy and drinking plenty of fluids
- Using all assistive devices as advised, such as canes and walkers
- Wearing sturdy, non-slip footwear
- Removing fall hazards from the home, such as throw rugs, small tables, magazines and papers and children’s toys
- Most importantly, see your primary care provider regularly for routine care and ongoing follow- ups