As you or a loved one grow older, it is important to plan for potential risks and injuries that may accompany aging. Falling, in particular, is the leading cause of injury among elderly people, as medical conditions such as reduced vision, loss of balance, and slower reaction times make seniors more susceptible to falls.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of four older adults will fall in the United States each year, and about “3 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for a fall injury.” However make no mistake — falling is not a normal part of aging, and can be preventable with a few easy adjustments to your home and day-to-day living routine. To start planning how to prevent fall injuries for seniors, consider these 4 simple steps:
1) Talk to your Doctor about Fall Prevention
To begin your fall prevention plan, ask your doctor to evaluate your risk for falling. Be sure to mention any ailments or medical symptoms you may be experiencing, including impaired vision, balance loss, or dizziness. After an initial screening, your doctor may ask you to perform a series of fall assessment exercises to gauge your body’s strength, balance, and gait. An example exercise can include the “30-Second Chair Stand Test,” where a patient is asked to stand up and sit down in a chair as many times as they can in a 30-second period. These exercises, developed by the CDC in part of their STEADI Initiative, will help your doctor identify risk factors and recommend the best strategies for you to prevent falls. If interested, read more about STEADI and its resources here.
2) Review Medications Linked to Falls
For all seniors ages 65 or older, it’s important to review your medications regularly as they may be increasing your risk for fall. Psychoactive medications that affect the brain, such as antidepressants or anticonvulsants, are especially important to review as they’ve been shown to have a “significant association with falls in elderly individuals.” Likewise, common prescription or over-the-counter medications like antihistamines and muscle relaxants have been linked to side-effects of dizziness, sedation, and blurred vision, which can put you at increased risk for fall as well.
Seniors with high blood pressure are also at greater risk for falls, as they can experience postural hypotension, a condition where a person’s blood pressure drops when they go from lying down to sitting up, or from sitting to standing. If you are an elderly person with high blood pressure, it is important to monitor your medication’s effects as it can cause or exacerbate a sudden fall in blood pressure, which increases the likelihood for a fall to occur.
Once you identify the medications that may be contributing to fall risk, discuss with your doctor or health care provider a medication management plan. If possible, stop use of this medication and switch to a safer alternative. In the chance your doctor decides that the benefits of the medications outweigh the fall risk, discuss whether a lower effective dosage is possible. Maintaining a medication management plan will help reduce harmful side-effects that make you more prone to falls, whilst encouraging a healthier and more independent lifestyle.
3) Exercise to Maintain Physical Activity
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, exercise “has been shown to reduce the incidence of falls by 13 to 40 percent.” As reported in this study, experts agree that physical activity is essential to healthy aging and fall prevention, especially those that incorporate elements of “balance, gait, and strength training.”
With your doctor’s approval, consider exercises that strengthen your lower-body and improve balance. Such exercises include standing on one foot, the heel-to-toe walk, or Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art that consists of slow, dance-like, and controlled movements. In addition to balance exercises, the National Institutes of Health also recommends physical activities that target endurance, strength, and flexibility. These exercises include light weight-lifting, swimming, and stretching.
If you’re unsure or hesitant to engage in physical activity, contact your doctor and a licensed physical therapist. They will be able to create custom exercise programs that are best suited to your health and fitness.
4) Make Home Adjustments Conducive to Fall Prevention
For many seniors, living in the same home for years can create a false sense of safety and security. But make no mistake — falls can occur anywhere, even in the places you least expect. To help reduce fall and injuries, it’s important to minimize hazards and incorporate home modifications to ensure your living space is as conducive as possible for fall prevention. Removing tripping hazards such as electrical cords, boxes, and furniture in inconvenient areas can go a long way to reducing falls.
One modification to consider is placing motion-activated night lights around your home, especially in key locations such as hallways, staircases, and bedrooms. According to the American Geriatrics Society, visually impaired seniors are more likely to experience falls, have fear of falling, and are more likely to limit their activities to prevent injuries. Vision is crucial to maintaining balance and avoiding obstacles, which makes a well-lit home a necessity, especially at night-time.
Installing grab bars is also another easy and effective method in preventing falls. Grab bars help senior members stand, walk, and balance themselves when navigating different locations in their homes. They can also foster a stronger sense of independence for seniors, especially those who are looking to age in place rather than move into a community home. Grab bars should be placed in areas that the senior members usually walk through, including areas prone to debilitating falls, such as the bathroom and stairways.
For more home modifications ideas to prevent falls, check out AARP’s Preventing Falls Checklist. If you or a loved one is considering aging in place, visit our Aging in Place tool that connects users with a comprehensive marketplace of services and benefits in your community.