Falls are known to be a primary cause of injury and accidental death in the elderly and they become more common and the results more serious as we age. The frail elderly are not the only ones at risk for falling. Even those older persons who appear strong and healthy can be susceptible. In fact, the fear of falling itself can lead to isolation, decreased mobility, deconditioning and depression. The good news however, is that falls in older adults are both predictable and preventable.
What are the causes of falls?
There are a number of changes that occur as part of the aging process that impact the risk of falling: decreased eyesight, poor hearing, and decreased strength can all contribute to unsteadiness. Other potential risk factors include the side effects of some medications and illnesses. Studies have shown that an elderly individual is more likely to fall if taking four or more medications, or has changed medications within the prior two weeks. Medicines for depression, sleep problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart conditions have all been identified as triggering falls.
Maine Medical Center's Geriatric Center has developed a special clinic to address the issue of falling. The goal of our Falls Clinic is to prevent as many falls as possible by helping seniors to identify potential risk factors for falling and then learn how to control those risk factors. Staffed by a Geriatrician and a Physical Therapist, this clinic is designed to help individuals who have fallen frequently, or who have been identified as a being at risk for falling. Visits to the clinic include:
- A detailed evaluation of balance, strength, endurance and coordination
- An assessment of other risk factors associated with falling, such as: ? Medication side effects and interactions
- Effects of other diseases (such as arthritis or stroke)
- Decreased memory
- Environmental risks
- Development of a comprehensive treatment plan with follow-up visits to the clinic as needed
The ability to successfully manage concerns about falling can have a positive impact on emotional health and well being. Taking steps to prevent falls ensures the ability to engage in daily routines and activities with confidence and improved safety. The Falls Clinic can help with this.
What can be done to prevent falls?
While it is impossible to control the aging process, or which medications are prescribed, there are a number of things the elderly can control that will help to prevent falls. The first thing is to ensure safety at home. Most falls occur around the home during routine activities. Here are some tips that can help to lessen the risk of falling at home:
- Make certain that the lighting at home is bright enough to be able to see things on the floor
- Use night lights in the bedroom, bathroom, hallway and stairs
- Be careful of throw rugs. If necessary, remove them or fasten the edges securely with carpet tape
- Make sure that electrical cords are not in walking pathways
- Have grab bars installed in the bathtub, shower and toilet areas
- Have handrails put on both sides of stairways
- Get someone to help with projects that require a stool or stepladder
- Have sidewalks and walkways repaired if they are uneven or cracked
- Wear shoes around the house that have non-stick soles
The second thing to do is to take good care of yourself and see your doctor regularly. Speak with your doctor about falls and ask about a fall risk medical assessment. Medications should be reviewed both annually and when a new medication is added. Here are some tips for how to take good care of yourself: • Get an eye exam yearly to check for vision changes, cataracts, glaucoma and other eye problems
- Get a hearing exam every two years, or anytime you or others feel you are having trouble hearing
- Report any problems with your feet to your doctor, including foot pain, corns or trouble with toenails: Sore feet can increase fall risk
- Report any problems with balance, dizziness or unsteadiness to your physician immediately
- When getting up from bed, sit on the side of the bed for a minute or two before standing up
- If you need to go to the bathroom frequently during the night, consider using a bedside commode
Finally, stay in good shape. Physical activity helps to improve heart health, muscle strength, bone density, balance, sense of well being and overall mental function. The following tips will help to keep you in shape:
- Get regular exercise, especially walking
- Do exercises to strengthen the muscles used for walking and lifting
- Don't smoke
- Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day
Meet the Falls Team