Health Risks in the Elderly: Preventing Falls

Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN | Published on February 26, 2015
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on February 26, 2015

Fall Prevention Importance

For a young person, a fall may mean a few bruises and some soreness. But for an older person, a fall can mean a broken bone and a loss of mobility and independence. Several factors can contribute to an older adult’s increased risk for falls and the injuries associated with them. Understanding these risk factors and taking steps to prevent falls can help seniors live happier, more mobile lives.

What Risk Factors Contribute to Falls?

Physical changes associated with aging can contribute to an increased fall risk, including:

Did You Know?
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), one out of three adults age 65 and older experiences a fall every year.
  • arthritis
  • difficulty maintaining balance
  • irregular heartbeat
  • reduced visual abilities
  • slower reflexes
  • urinary and bladder dysfunction
  • weaker muscle strength and tone

Older adults also may take medications that contribute to dizziness, confusion, or slower reflex responses. This includes medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, and sleeping. Diuretics and muscle relaxants may also increase your risk of falling. You should not discontinue these medications without a doctor’s supervision.

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Falls

Regular activities to improve balance and enhance muscle tone can help reduce fall risks. These exercises don’t have to be strenuous to be effective. Try these balance exercises on an every-other-day basis to reduce fall risks:

  • Stand behind a chair or other sturdy piece of furniture you can hold onto and practice standing on one leg at a time. Hold this position for five seconds and increase the time period as you are able. Closing your eyes while you’re balancing will increase the difficulty.
  • Standing behind a sturdy piece of furniture, lift your leg to the side, as high as you’re able. Repeat 10 times with one leg, then switch to the other leg. Repeat this exercise, raising your leg behind you instead of beside you on both sides.
  • Practice walking from heel to toe. You may need to hold your arms out to your sides or use an assistive device to steady yourself. Walking in this manner for even short distances can help.

You also can ask your doctor if you could begin an exercise program, such as a weight-training or aerobics. Many healthcare facilities and community centers offer senior-specific exercise programs.

Eating a healthy diet can also help you maintain healthy bones that are less likely to break. Make sure to eat enough calcium and vitamin D each day. Excellent sources of calcium include:

Did You Know?
According to the AAOS, most falls in the home are related to slippery surfaces, clutter or obstructions, and poor lighting.
  • fortified oatmeal
  • cheddar cheese
  • non-fat or fortified milk
  • plain low-fat yogurt
  • calcium-fortified orange juice
  • egg yolks

As an added bonus, a balanced diet gives you energy so not only will you have stronger bones, you’ll feel better too.

How Can I Fall-Proof My Home?

Most falls occur in the home when a person is performing everyday tasks, such as going to the bathroom. Keeping your home and the areas you commonly walk free of obstructions can go a long way in preventing falls. Conduct a thorough check of your home to ensure there are no potential risks. Check the following:

  • floors are clutter free
  • no loose carpets or floor boards loose on your stairs
  • clothes in your closet easy to reach
  • kitchen supplies are within easy reach
  • light switches are easy to access
  • your bed is easy to get in and out of
  • your walking pathway is free from extension cords and other wires
  • grab bars on the bathroom walls
  • raised seats on the toilet or a sturdy plastic seat in the bathtub

It’s also a good idea to wear sturdy shoes with non-skid soles that fit you well while walking in your home to reduce the likelihood of slips and falls.

Ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist if you need extra help. These medical specialists can evaluate your home to help identify ways to make your space more fall-proof.

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