Falls Prevention Awareness Day is on September 23rd, which is a day to raise awareness about how to prevent fall-related injuries among older adults. Also, as we head into the fall and winter seasons, Cornerstone VNA Managers, Karen Krause, PT, COS-C and Katie Michaud, MS, OTR/L, share some helpful information on staying safe at home.
Falls in the elderly are on the rise, so there is always a continued need for awareness on this issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control,
- One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.
- Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
- Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
- Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
- More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling.
Factors Related to Balance
- Vision: As we age so does our vision. Make sure that you get regular eye checkups and that your glasses are the correct prescription. Since our night vision diminishes as well with age, most falls occur at night. To avoid falls at night, carry a flashlight or plug in a night light to illuminate hallways, especially to light a path to the bathroom.
- Proprioception: These are the sensors in our muscles and tendons that tell the brain the position of our limbs and our body in space, without the need to see or feel every aspect of the movement. We don’t think about it when we jump, run or walk; our bodies just do the activity automatically. As we age, so do our sensors (proprioceptors). As they weaken, they don’t respond as quickly or as sharply. For example, knowing where your foot is as you swing your leg through when walking may be diminished, leading to catching your foot on the floor and tripping. This can lead to a fall. A Physical Therapist can show you exercises and activities that can be done to improve or awaken your proprioceptors.
- Vestibular: The dizzy centers in your inner ear. Like all other things in our bodies, our vestibular system can be affected as we age. People can develop vertigo (spinning/dizziness) which can lead to falls. There is a condition called BPPV (Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo) that occurs from the crystals in your inner ear being dislodged and floating around your inner ear canals. These crystals tell your head where it is in space, therefore if the crystals are dislodged and stimulated, they cause severe dizziness. These crystals can dislodge due to the impact of a fall or they can dislodge on their own due to a thinning of the membrane that holds the crystals in place. There is a treatment for this by a Physical Therapist that is trained in vestibular rehabilitation.
- Cognition: As we age so does our cognition and the way we process information. This can also lead to a fall. Doing things like word games and crossword puzzles can help sharpen your mind.
Other Factors that can Lead to Falls
- Dehydration: Most seniors reduce the amount of water they drink on a daily basis either due to a decrease in the urge to drink or due to the increased need to go to the bathroom. The recommended water intake is 64 ounces a day or eight, 8 oz glasses of water. Best rule of thumb, increase your water intake by 1 more glass a day and keep slowly increasing until you are drinking close to the recommended amount.
- Poor nutrition: Poor nutritional intake can lead to low blood sugars and an overall lack of energy which can contribute to a fall.
- Poor footwear: Improper footwear can lead to falls. Make sure your shoes are supportive, have good tread and enclose your foot—no open back shoes or heels.
Preventing Falls at Home
There are nine simple ways to prevent a fall in your home. As previously mentioned, falls are the number one cause of injuries in seniors, resulting in hip fractures, cuts, and even serious head and brain injuries. There are some basic changes that adults and seniors can make in their environment to decrease risk of falls.
- Clean up the clutter. Removal of clutter from areas like hallways, staircases and pathways is safe practice. Try to keep your home as neat and tidy as possible, especially clutter from the floor.
- Remove or repair tripping hazards in the home. Areas to look for would be loose carpeting, slippery or loose throw rugs, and areas of the floor that are loose or need repair.
- Installing grab bars in the bathroom and showers and handrails in the stairways or hallways are crucial to promote safety and decrease the risk for falls.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing. It is important to be comfortable, however, make sure that your pant legs and other clothing is not too baggy where it could cause a fall hazard.
- Make sure you have adequate lighting in your home by installing brighter light bulbs, night lights, and lighting in hallways and dark stairways.
- Wear shoes or socks with grips. Socks that do not have a nonslip grip can be slippery.
- Make it nonslip. Bathtubs and showers can become very slippery when wet. Installing a nonslip mat is highly recommended.
- Living on one level. This may not be possible for everyone, but stairs can present a risk for falling. As we age, a living arrangement on one level is preferred and is safer for seniors.
- Take your time. Rushing and moving too quickly can cause a lot of factors in relation to falls. No matter what the event is, take your time and don’t rush to stand or walk as this can put you at greater risk to fall.
These are some simple recommendations that can assist you in fall prevention. You may need to ask a friend or a loved one to help with these recommendations in your home. Also, as the seasons change we need to be aware of our outside environment too. During the fall season, leaves can cover walkways and become wet and slippery. Make sure you are aware of uneven ground, wear appropriate footwear, and utilize a cane or a walker if needed. All of these suggestions can help keep you safe and decrease your risk for falls.
If you’re interested in learning more about improving your balance and reducing your risk for falls, contact Cornerstone VNA at 603-332-1133 or view our calendar to see information regarding upcoming ‘A Matter of Balance’ community classes.