Trips and falls can happen anytime, anywhere and to anyone regardless of age. However, the elderly are far more likely to lose their balance and seriously injure themselves in the process.
The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 28–35% of people aged 65 and over fall each year increasing to 32–42% for those over 70 years of age. The frequency of falls increases with age and frailty level and accounts for 40% of all injury deaths.
Most falls can be prevented
The major underlying causes for fall-related hospital admission in the elderly are hip fracture, traumatic brain injuries and upper limb injuries.
Additionally, falls may also result in a postfall syndrome that includes dependence, loss of autonomy, confusion, immobilisation and depression, which will lead to a further restriction in daily activities – making falls costly – both in rands and in quality of life.
Most falls can be prevented and regular physical activity such as walking 15 to 30 minutes per day is one of the most basic things people can do to reduce their risk of falling because it strengthens muscles, improves balance and flexibility and increases stamina.
Nevertheless, there is a fine balance between minimising the risk of falling and allowing people to be as independent as possible. For those who are unable to access individual physiotherapy or occupational therapy in their own homes, it is useful to review what the most common risk factors are and what can be done to help lessen them.
Here are six easy steps you can take today to help your older loved one reduce their risk of a fall:
1. Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe
Ask your loved one if they’re concerned about falling. Many older adults realise that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt – even if they’ve already fallen in the past. If they’re concerned about falling, dizziness, or balance, suggest that they discuss it with their doctor who can assess their risk and offer suggestions to help.
2. Discuss their current health conditions
Is your loved one experiencing any problems with managing their own health? Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications – or are they experiencing side effects?
Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily? Remember that chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, incontinence, dementia will have an impact. Declining physical and cognitive capacities make finding and getting to the toilet a challenge.
Age and gender will also have an impact on a person’s ability to recover after a fall. Encourage your older loved one to speak openly with their health care provider about their concerns.
3. Ask about their last eye checkup
Disturbed vision is common as people get older so changing the layout of a room to make it easier to navigate can make a big difference. If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor.
4. Check if they’re holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking or if they appear to have difficulty walking or arising from a chair
These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist. A trained physical therapist can help your loved one improve their balance, strength, and gait through exercise. They might also suggest a cane or walker – and provide guidance on how to use these aids.
Make sure to follow their advice as poorly fit aids can increase the risk of falling. Inappropriate or poor fitting footwear and long clothing also add to the risk.
5. Talk about their medications
Multiple medication use, particularly sleep aids or blood pressure lowering medicines can cause dizziness. Taking four or more prescription medications is a clear indicator of increased risk.
If your loved one is having a hard time keeping track of medicines or is experiencing side effects, encourage them to discuss their concerns with their doctor and pharmacist and suggest that they have their medications reviewed each time they get a new prescription.
6. Do a walk-through safety assessment of their home
There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer. Here are some examples:
• Lighting: Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs. Ensure that lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night.
• Floors and sidewalks: replace frayed carpets that are easy to trip over, thin flooring on hard surfaces that do not "cushion" a fall and fix cracked or uneven sidewalks
• Stairs: Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.
• Bathrooms: Urinary incontinence is a well-known risk factor as people rush to get to the toilet. If your loved one cannot get to the toilet in time, talk to them about using an incontinence product, especially at night. TENA offers a range of products to protect and help restore your loved one’s dignity.
Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. Make sure they’re installed where your older loved one would actually use them. Consider using a shower chair and hand-held shower for even greater safety.
For advice on bladder weakness products, please call us on 087 359 1079. Visit TENA for more information on our product range. You can also buy TENA products online at TENA Shop.
Dementia and Incontinence: what you need to know
Compassion fatigue and what to do about it