Falling becomes an increasing danger for people as they age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior falls affect one third of all adults age 65 and older - and that’s only among people who have reported incidences of falling. It’s estimated that less than half of those who fall actually talk about it with their healthcare providers. Considering the high probability of falling among senior citizens, it’s important to be aware of the facts surrounding senior falls so that steps can be taken to decrease fall risk.
Over the past decade, death rates from falls have risen sharply and among seniors (people age 65 and older), falls are the leading cause of injury leading to death and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries. In a study of community dwelling older people, twenty to thirty percent of those who fell suffered reduced mobility and independence. Understanding the risk factors for falls is a great first step in learning how to decrease your risk.
According to a paper published by the World Health Organization, risk factors can be classified into three categories: intrinsic factors, extrinsic factors, and exposure to risk. Extrinsic factors include things like poor lighting, wet floors, or bad footwear. Exposure to risk is a measure of a person’s activity level. People who are very inactive tend to be at increased risk for falling, as are people who are extremely active. It is those people who are in the middle between extreme activeness and inactivity who are the least likely to fall.
Intrinsic factors are a bit more broad in scope. Age is the factor most highly associated with falling, with people age 75 and over four to five times more likely than people age 65 to 74 to be admitted to a long term healthcare facility as the result of a fall. Other factors include gender (with women more likely to fall than men), ethnicity (with caucasians more likely to fall that other ethnicities), and other medical conditions (circulatory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, and arthritis are each associated with an increased risk of falling). For a complete list visit http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/74700/E82552.pdf.
So what can you do about it? Are there preventative measures? Luckily, there are. One of the easiest measures you can take, and one that can be done in the comfort of your own home, is exercise. Specifically, balance building exercises are ideal for fall prevention. This Mayo Clinic article is an excellent reference for balance building exercises. It includes descriptions of weight shifting movements, side lateral raise movements, and single leg balance movements. In addition to these, group exercise like Tai Chi can be another way to build up your strength and improve your balance.
Another step you can take is to “fall-proof” your home. Creating an environment free of clutter laying on the ground and making sure that floors aren’t slick are excellent ways to do this. Additionally, because so many falls do happen at home, it’s a good idea to utilize a medical alert service like Philips Lifeline. Available to Viva Medicare Plus members for 20% off, Philips Lifeline provides you with a device worn around the neck with a button that connects directly to a person who can assist you in getting help in the event of a fall.
Finally, One of the most important measures you can take to prevent senior falls, either out of concern for your own personal safety or a loved one’s, is to educate yourself. Resources like this as well as the links listed at the bottom of the page are excellent sources for learning the risk factors associated with falls as well as the things you can do to prevent them.