For older adults, falls can be incredibly serious. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and one out of every four Americans 65 and older experiences a fall each year. As the CDC points out, the long-term effects of a fall can be serious and costly. In fact:
- One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury
- More than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of an injury caused by a fall, most commonly a head injury or hip fracture
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs
- Up to 50% of those who are afraid of falling say they limit or exclude social or physical activities out of fear
As a family caregiver, helping your senior loved one avoid a fall may be high on your list of priorities. One way to take action now is to identify if your loved one is showing any of the most common risk factors for falling. This way, you can take action to help your loved one lower their chances of suffering a fall – and prepare to take action if an accident ever does take place.
The Risk Factors for Falls
The CDC and other sources have provided some helpful guidelines on determining if your senior loved one may be at an increased risk of experiencing a fall. They divide risk factors into two primary categories, intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic Risk Factors for Falls
Intrinsic fall factors are those that are specific to a senior’s health and well-being. They include:
- Advanced age. Studies have shown that the likelihood of falling increases with time. For instance, data indicates that 30% of people in their sixties will suffer a fall each year; that rate increases to 50% among those in their eighties.
- Previous falls. Research has indicated that seniors who have already suffered a fall area at an increased risk of falling again. In fact, according to the CDC, falling once doubles a senior’s likelihood of falling again.
- Muscle weakness. Experts estimate that adults lose roughly 10% of their strength and endurance every decade, and up to 30% of their muscle power each decade. This loss of physical function can put seniors at a greater risk of falling.
- Walking & balance problems. Many seniors experience changes to their sense of balance over time. Similarly, changes to the muscles and bones can make it more difficult to sit, stand, and walk. Nearly 25% of adults over 65 say they have some trouble walking or climbing stairs.
- Poor vision. According to research, approximately one in three elderly persons has some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65. Changes to eyesight and other senses can increase the likelihood of falling.
- Postural hypotension. This is a common condition in which a person’s blood pressure drops rapidly when getting up from lying down or sitting.
- Chronic health conditions. Conditions such as arthritis, stroke, incontinence, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and dementia can all have effects that may increase the chances of falling for seniors.
Extrinsic Risk Factors for Falls
Extrinsic fall factors are those that stem from a senior’s living experiences and environment. These external factors include:
- Medications. Many seniors take a variety of medications for different health conditions, many of which can cause side effects that may make falls more likely, such as dizziness, confusion, or loss of coordination.
- Dangerous conditions in home. Studies have indicated that as many as 30%–50% of falls are due to environmental causes; other research suggests that up to 80% of household falls may occur in the bathroom. Risk factors at home include lack of hand rails and grab bars, poor lighting, a high number of stairs, and tripping hazards, such as clutter.
- Living alone. Research has suggested that living a solitary lifestyle can increase the risk of falls, and make their injuries and consequences worse.
Fall Prevention and Avoidance: What You Can Do to Help
Taking some time to identify the unique risk factors that apply to your loved one can help you move forward with a personalized fall prevention plan. As geriatrician Leslie Kernisan writes for Better Health While Aging:
“learning why older people fall means that you’ll be able to figure out why YOUR older relative is likely to fall — and take steps to help them… Once you understand the particular factors contributing to your older loved one’s risk, it will be easier to focus on the fall prevention strategies that are most relevant to your situation.”
A few steps family caregivers can take to help their older loved ones live independently, while reducing their risk for falling:
Consult With Your Loved One’s Health Care Team
Work with your loved one’s doctors and specialists to discuss their specific risk factors. A health care professional can help your loved one review their medications, recommend physical activities, help manage treatment of chronic conditions, and help connect your loved one with walkers, canes, and other assistive devices, as necessary. Your loved one should also go in for regular vision and hearing tests.
Encourage Your Senior to Live an Active Lifestyle
Even a little bit of physical activity can lead to a dramatic improvement in independence and quality of life for seniors. Work with a doctor or physical therapist who can help recommend a regular exercise regimen to improve your senior loved one’s mobility, flexibility, and balance.
Make Your Loved One’s Home Environment Safer
Older adults who want to age in place must have a home that suits their changing needs. Get rid of clutter and rearrange furniture to remove tripping hazards. Improve the lighting throughout the home, add grab bars and supports in bathroom, and add railings to all staircases. You might also consider helping your loved rethink how they use their space. For instance, it may help to move the master bedroom to the main floor, to help your loved one avoid stairs. Equip your loved one with medical alert bracelet or alarm to notify others in the event of an emergency. Encourage your senior loved one to dress comfortably, and adopt safe footwear, which the National Institute on Aging describes as “non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes, or lace-up shoes with non-skid soles that fully support your feet.”
Bring on the Support of a Professional Caregiver
As a busy sandwich generation caregiver, it can be difficult to always be there for your loved one, and provide the routine level of assistance they may need to live a healthy and independent lifestyle. A professional caregiver or senior companion can help provide the attention and support your loved one needs. Available on a flexible schedule, a senior companion can assist with housekeeping; provide help with bathing, grooming, and mobility; offer medication and exercise reminders; and provide transportation to doctor’s appointments or errands. Just as importantly, a companion can connect with your senior loved one to provide friendship and social support. With a senior companion as part of your caregiving team, you can trust that someone will be there to help in an emergency, and communicate any changes in your loved one’s health.
About Companions for Seniors
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors maintain a higher quality of life by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle in the comfort and safety of home. Our aim is to help seniors live independently, connect them with their community, and nurture meaningful relationships.
Here at Companions for Seniors, providing exceptional care for the elderly is our passion. If you have any questions or want to talk about starting with home care for your family, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re always here, and happy to help guide you in the right direction.
Locally owned and operated in Chicago, Illinois, we offer a wide variety of full- and part-time services designed to make life more convenient for your senior loved ones, and for you.
Getting started, we can provide a free in-home assessment for your loved one, and help develop a unique and personalized care plan tailored to your aging loved one’s needs. As the senior’s needs change with time, so will our plan of care. In most cases we can be up and running in just a few days, sparing you from the laborious application process, hidden fees, and extensive paperwork attached to assisted living facilities.
Curious about what sets Companions for Seniors apart? Want to talk over any aspect of home care? We’d love to keep the conversation going. Get in touch online or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today to get started.