The leading cause of injuries for adults 65 or older is an unintentional fall. Every year, 1 in 3 Americans in that age group experiences a fall. Because falls occur so often and can bring about serious injuries, many older individuals develop a fear of falling—whether they have fallen or not.
Do you have fears that you or a loved one will fall? It may alleviate your worries to learn that most falls are preventable. Read through the information below to learn why older adults are more prone to fall, how doing so may damage their health, and what you can do to guard against falling.
Factors That Make Falling More Likely
Older adults receive more injuries from falling than any other cause. What makes falling so commonplace among this age group? In general, the causes tie back to an overall decline in health. More specifically, a person’s risk of falling links to these factors:
- Vision changes
- Slower reflexes/reaction times
- Greater difficulty maintaining and regaining balance
- Loss of muscle mass
In some individuals, other health concerns contribute to their likelihood of falling. These include:
- Taking medications that may cause dizziness or confusion
- Having dementia
- Having bone and joint health conditions, such as arthritis or osteoporosis
- Being at high risk for heart attack or stroke
Finally, environmental factors also play a role.
Common Consequences of Falls
For adults around age 65 or older, an unintentional fall can result in serious health issues. The most common injuries include:
- Head trauma, including traumatic brain injuries
- Bone fractures, such as broken hips, legs, arms, hands, and ankles
These consequences usually require immediate medical attention. Around 30% of older individuals who fall spend time in the hospital as a result of their injuries. In some cases, the severity of the injuries leads to a fall-related death.
Unintentional falls also have non-medical consequences. People often have a new or intensified fear of falling after they experience it. This fear leads them to change their habits so they can avoid falling again. However, these changes may increase that risk.
For example, a 70-year old woman may spend less time walking after she falls and breaks a hip. She assumes that the less she walks, the less chance she has of falling. But as she exercises less, she becomes less fit, and her mobility suffers. Consequently, she becomes more prone to fall when she does walk around.
After a fall, patients should follow directions from their doctors, nurses, and physical and occupational therapists. These professionals know best how to manage injuries and reduce risks of falling again.
Ways to Minimize Risk of Falling
On the bright side, a fall is not inevitable for anyone 65 or older. People in this age group can adapt their homes and their lifestyles so falls become much less likely.
Begin by creating a living space that allows for secure and independent mobility. First, create clear paths throughout your home. Clear away piles of clutter—they pose a tripping hazard. Install stairlifts and hand rails on any steps. You may want additional grab bars in hallways or on walls.
Next, ensure that your floors help you resist slipping and falling. As much as possible, your floors should be flat so you can find sure footing. Take away any rugs that move readily, or put non-skid liners underneath them.
Choose furniture that you can get in and out of on your own. Buy a recliner that accommodates your height and weight without making you bend your knees too deeply. Place pillows on your most-used furniture so you can get additional cushioning.
When you buy hard furniture like tables and desks, choose round edges. Then you won’t fall onto sharp corners. You should also steer clear of furniture with large glass pieces.
In the bedroom, opt for a plush headboard. Make sure your bed frame puts your mattress at a height that suits your mobility. In the bathroom, swap your standard tub for a walk-in tub. Place grab bars around the toilet and in the tub/shower area.
In addition to making your home more fall-proof, you should stay as healthy as possible. As per your doctor’s directions, develop or continue healthy habits that help you preserve your mobility and stave off the worst consequences of a fall. Try these tips to get started:
- Stay active. Simple exercises like walking or Tai Chi build your leg strength and improve your balance. Weight-bearing exercises increase your bone strength and may help you avoid fractures if you do fall.
- Eat recommended daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients also strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of fracture.
- Make regular doctor visits. Ask health professionals to monitor you for conditions like osteoporosis and recommend treatments as needed.
- Monitor your medications. Consult with your doctor about your medications if you notice dizziness or drowsiness. Your doctor may know of an alternative medicine that will reduce those side effects.
Although people over 65 do have a higher risk of falling, these tips can help you reduce that risk and enjoy many years without fall-related injuries.