Falls: Common causes and prevention

Falls are the leading cause of accident-related emergency room visits and the primary reason for accidental deaths in the senior population. Statistics indicate that one-third of community dwelling individuals over the age of 65 fall every year. Twenty to thirty percent of these falls will result in moderate to severe injury, to include lacerations, hip fractures, and head trauma. These injuries can make it difficult to get around and continue to live independently.

It is important to understand some common causes that can lead to the potential for falls. The top 5 causes are: 1) General decline in health: an acute illness or gradual physical decline due to decreased activity. Deficits related to vision, hearing, memory, and balance all play a role in increasing fall risk. Regular healthcare checkups are very important. 2) Medications: keep a full list of medications (to include over the counter) to be reviewed by your healthcare provider. Many medications have side effects of impaired balance and stability. 3) Post-Hospital return: the senior population has an increased risk for falls during a weakened state. This is particularly true following a surgery or significant medical event. 4) Living environment: small rugs, cluttered spaces, poor lighting, and stairs are just a few items that increase risk of falls in the home. According to the CDC, over 200,000 falls annually occur in the bathroom, making this potentially the most treacherous room in the house. 5) Fear of falling: the fear of falling again once a fall has occurred is significant with the senior population. This leads to psychological limitations resulting in limiting daily activities, thus loss of physical function.

Preventing falls is crucial in maintaining the quality of life and independence of seniors in their home. Prevention includes: 1) Regularly scheduled medical appointments to review all medications, assess vision, hearing, and overall medical status. 2) Following any hospitalization, ensure proper assistance and care is available and provided during recovery period. This often includes post-hospital rehab services. 3) Stay active; keep moving. With physician approval, participate in gentle exercise, to include walking, water exercise, and tai-chi. 4) Assess environmental hazards, which include renovations or remodeling of living space. Provide adequate glare-free lighting, open and clutter-free walking space, and remove small rugs. Adaptations to the bathroom may be necessary, and may include: a walk-in shower/tub, grab bars, and raised/handicapped-height toilet.