Falls are a serious issue for seniors, and the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. The majority of hip fractures in older adults are caused by falls, and for women ages 70 – 79, breaking a hip doubles the risk of dying within a year.[1] Reducing the risk of falls can help older adults stay healthy and independent, especially if they are aging at home.

Fall prevention starts with an assessment of the person’s physical limitations and his/her environment. For example, common physical factors that increase fall risk include:

  • Vision problems. Many older people have changes in their vision or eye conditions or diseases that reduce vision. Obstacles and tripping hazards, such as extension cords and frayed carpeting, may not be readily apparent, particularly if the lighting is poor.
  • Balance and coordination difficulties. Adults who are frail and inflexible may have difficulty walking and lose their balance easily.
  • Side effects from medications. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, leading to loss of balance.
  • Illnesses and chronic health conditions such as diabetes, COPD, and congestive heart failure may increase fall risk especially if the person has difficulty getting around, is inactive for long periods of time, and relies on mobility aids. Having osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weaker and more likely to break, is of concern as even a minor fall may result in fractures and disabling injury.
  • Foot pain or poor footwear. Shoes with heels, or slippery socks, can cause an older person to lose his/her balance and fall.

Sometimes simple changes in the environment can help to reduce fall risk, such as removing throw rugs and household clutter, installing grab bars near the tub and toilet, and fixing broken or uneven steps. The most common areas where falls occur are in the kitchen and bathroom. Additional tips to prevent falls include:

  • Keeping things within easy reach
  • Using nightlights in the bedroom and bathroom
  • Minimizing the use of stairs. If the washer and dryer are in a basement, carrying loads of laundry up and down the stairs can pose a significant fall risk. Ideally a family member or a homemaker/companion can take on this chore.

 

A brochure for family caregivers with steps to help prevent older adult falls can be accessed here.

[1] Science Daily Reference