The statistics are sobering. About a third of people over 65 fall every year, and many of these falls result in serious injury. Most of these victims lose the ability to live independently, and falls are also the second-leading cause of injury-related death for people over 65.
Yet whereas a fall appears to be a random event brought on by one-time uncontrollable circumstances, in most cases, that’s simply not true. Instead, falls among the elderly are usually occasioned by some specific lifestyle and health situations. So, preventing falls is largely a matter of understanding their causes.
What Causes Elderly Falls?
It’s important to understand the difference between unintentional slip-and-fall incidents and falls among the elderly. Whereas adverse environmental circumstances, like wet spots on floors and burned out hallway lights, cause most of the former, various lifestyle and health conditions cause most of the latter. Some of the more prominent ones include:
- Balance: Years and years of inactivity adversely affect walking gait as well as sense of balance, increasing the risk of accidental fall.
- Vision: When we are younger, the retina lets in plenty of light, so it is rather easy to see obstructions, contrasting edges, and the like. But as we age, the retina allows less light to the iris, making such hazards more difficult to see, especially in less-than-ideal environmental conditions.
- Chronic Illness: 80 percent of seniors suffer from arthritis, are recovering from a stroke, or have some other long-term health condition. Sometimes, the illness itself causes loss of balance or dizziness; other times, a particular medication, or combination of medications, causes such symptoms.
- Environment: Most seniors have lived in the same home for decades, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. But, some residents in these situations take everything for granted, never giving any thought to a bench for shower or some other simple modification.
These issues sometimes interact. For example, poor vision often gives people less confidence when walking, a fact that makes already unsteady balance even worse.
The solution to avoiding elderly falls often lies embedded within the aforementioned causes of said falls.
Review Current Health Conditions
Fall prevention usually begins with a conversation. Talk to your doctor about any health conditions you have, along with your concerns about balance and falling.
Afterwards, the two of you can put together a medication and therapy plan that balances the medical situation with your desire to remain independent and maintain your sense of balance in everyday life.
Treated lenses that change from dark tint in sunlight to clear indoors are great for active people, but there is always a transition. Consider using clip-on sunglasses (yes, they aren’t pretty, but they do the job) or simply pausing for a few moments when entering a building.
Bifocals may be an issue as well, especially on winding or unfamiliar staircases, so use extra caution in these situations.
Look for Warning Signs
Do you hold onto furniture when standing or sitting, or do you touch walls when you walk to either get your balance or feel your way around? If so, it’s probably time to see a physical therapist. Such interaction will help you gain a little more strength and improve coordination, thus eliminating one of the biggest risks.
A periodic walk-through does a lot of good. Look for burned out light bulbs, loose stairway rails, and so on. Furthermore, ensure that there is plenty of light at the tops and bottoms of staircases, and that if you need to get up at night that there is a light switch near the bed. Finally, be especially mindful of the bathroom. The aforementioned shower bench and other aids could make the difference.
Elderly falls are not accidental. Instead, they are preventable, with just a few simple changes.
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